Ulster 13 Toulon 23: Three talking points
Three talking points as Toulon pack powers reigning European champions to victory in Belfast
Toulon improve to maintain title defence
A raft of changes in the pack after an underwhelming performance last week helped Toulon secure their second win in Pool 3 against Ulster. They were perfect at the lineout and scrum and, such was their scrum dominance, they produced plenty of penalty opportunities for points machine Leigh Halfpenny to kick the reigning champions into a solid lead. Springbok Bryan Habana finished off a great team move in the right corner after a superb offload in the tackle from man of the match Chris Masoe just before half-time. Even the loss of playmaker Matt Giteau on 27 minutes couldn’t derail the powerful Toulon attack as mercurial Australian James O’Connor delighted in a tactical kicking game along with Halfpenny and Delon Armitage. Their double header with Leicester Tigers in December will provide a sterner test, but there is still more to come from Bernard Laporte’s side.
Ulster’s European campaign almost over
The cliche this season is that there are no easy pools, something Ulster are finding out at their expense with two defeats in the opening two rounds. Even fortress Ravenhill couldn’t inspire the Ulstermen to victory in blustery conditions. Too often the Irish province struggled with their exits and getting through the big collisions. When they did get go-forward, they were well contained by Toulon’s blitz defence and struggled to compete with the French club at the breakdown. Scrum-half Paul Marshall was a livewire and took every opportunity afforded to him with several quick penalties, which produced Ulster’s more dangerous attacks, with Toulon slow in organising their defensive systems. There were also useful contributions from full-back Louis Ludik and winger Craig Gilroy, but all too often they were shut down by the champions. A late Paddy Jackson try gave Ulster a chance for a losing bonus point, but Ian Humphreys’ last-minute penalty when Habana was sin-binned drifted wide costing Ulster a much-needed bonus point and, with that, the home defeat suggests their European campaign is effectively over, which could be confirmed tonight if Leicester Tigers win at the Scarlets.
Toulon back row dominates again
In a team full of superstars, praise can be thrown around easily, especially with Toulon, but once again it was the back row that laid the groundwork for another impressive Toulon win, collectively accounting for over a third of their carries. Off the back of a lot more talk this week about why England need Steffon Armitage at openside, the 29-year-old duly delivered another superb performance with 19 carries and a typically destructive role at the breakdown. Number 8 Masoe was also in superb all-round form, also in Toulon’s top three ball carriers, and putting in 11 tackles. Only replacement flanker Juan Smith made more tackles with 17, the South African also among their top ball carrier,s and their collective ability to offload always had Ulster scrambling defensively. On form, there aren’t many teams that can live with their workload, and if Toulon are to win a third-successive European title, it will be the success of the back row that delivers it.