Cardiff Blues were on the receiving end of a fierce backlash from Toulon as the reigning champions booked their place in the quarter-finals. Toulon had suffered a shock home defeat to Grenoble last week and slipped to fifth in France’s Top 14 but talk of turmoil at the big-spending French champions proved to be premature.
They have never lost at home in the Heineken Cup and Bernard Laporte’s side reaffirmed their standing as favourites for this year’s competition.
The Blues had beaten Toulon at Cardiff Arms Park in round two and for 40 minutes it appeared as if they could pull off a remarkable double.
But when they lost captain and talisman Gethin Jenkins, a Heineken Cup winner with Toulon in 2013, at half-time it signalled the end of their hopes of victory.
Toulon had led by just two points at the break but a powerful second half display from the French side’s enormous pack and some indiscipline from the Welsh visitors combined to hand the home side a comfortable win.
The Blues had four players sent to the sin bin and conceded three penalty tries as they had no answer to Toulon’s fierce forwards.
Fresh from the defeat to Grenoble last weekend, Toulon were clearly in no mood to suffer a repeat and they were ahead through a Jonny Wilkinson (pictured) penalty after just two minutes.
Wing Chris Czekaj was the first Blues player to see yellow after six minutes, when he was sent to the bin for trying to rip the ball on the floor after hauling down opposite number David Smith and Wilkinson slotted the resulting penalty.
But the Blues hit back with 14 men as Wales international Leigh Halfpenny, openly coveted by the Toulon as a replacement for Wilkinson, kicked two penalties in six minutes to bring them level.
In the battle of two of the best goal kickers in world rugby it was Wilkinson who made the first mistake with a penalty miss after 25 minutes but the former England number 10 made up for it with two quick efforts to restore their six point lead.
Samoan second row Filo Paulo gave the Blues a surprise lead when he scooped up a loose ball in midfield, chipped to the corner and when Drew Mitchell failed to clear, Robin Copeland fed the ball back to Paulo to smash through Wilkinson and over for a try.
Halfpenny added the extras with the boot from the touchline but more indiscipline from the Blues right before the break allowed Wilkinson to kick a penalty and restore a two-point lead.
When Blues skipper Jenkins failed to reappear after the interval the signs were ominous for the visitors.
Toulon immediately put the Blues under pressure at the scrum and were awarded a penalty try after 42 minutes with prop Benoît Bourrust shown a yellow card for standing up.
Elis Jenkins was sent to the sin bin four minutes later for throwing himself under a driving line-out and Toulon had their second penalty try.
With the Blues in disarray, Toulon took full advantage and after walking through some big gaps in midfield Smith crashed over three tacklers to score in the corner, with Wilkinson adding his third conversion.
A host of Toulon changes briefly allowed the Blues back into the game and replacement prop Sam Hobbs went over for a try from close range after 70 minutes.
Halfpenny added the conversion to give the visitors a glimmer of hope of a losing bonus point but when Robin Copeland was shown yellow on 79 minutes it ended their chances. A third penalty try soon followed and Wilkinson added the conversion to finish off the rout.
Toulon: Mitchell, Wulf (Armitage, 60), Bastareaud, Giteau, Smith (Mermoz, 72), Wilkinson (capt), Tillous-Borde (61); Sheridan (Fresia, 57), Burden (Orioli, 54), Hayman (Castrogiovanni, 61), Botha (Mikautadze, 50), Suta, Smith, Van Niekerk (Gunther, 71), Armitage.
Cardiff Blues: Halfpenny, Cuthbert, Smith, Evans (Hewitt, 69), Czekaj (Fish, 71), Davies, L Williams (55); G Jenkins (capt; Hobbs, 40), Breeze (R Williams, 60), Bourrust (Andrews, 71), Dicomidis, Paulo (Down, 65), Cook, Navidi (E Jenkins, 11), Copeland.
Referee: Greg Garner (RFU).