Pilou-pilou is the untranslatable, pre-match haka-like war chant of the Toulon supporters and they were in full cry for their four out of four win in Pool 6 of the Heineken. No buts, no heroic defence, just a thrashing for a Sale which had held on for longer at home in the rain last week.
There was only one result that would satisfy former France coach Bernard Laporte when his Toulon side, leaders of the Top 14, ran into the late afternoon sunshine kick-off. It was a five-point win and a decisive further step to a home quarter final.
Add to Laporte’s uncompromising, granite-hard approach club owner Mourad Boudjellal’s impetuous ambition and seemingly bottomless coffers and the underlying constant atmosphere of change roars along at breakneck pace in the Mediterranean naval port town.
The cafés and bars are full of the talk about who is coming and who may be going. The South African flanker Dannie Rossouw is due to fly in from South Africa in February but will he be joined by former Springbok captain Jon Smit to take over from ex-Sale Sébastien Bruno as hooker and forwards coach?
And a rumour that started five years ago gathered pace again this week with the possible signing for a season of Springbok wing Bryan Habana as a centre. Such is the swinging state of affairs that Boudjellal first said that the chances out of 10 were 10 and modifying that in the same week to 5.1 out of 10. Laporte said just that he was “satisfied” afterwards.
They were half way there at half time, a try apiece for Bakkies Botha and Frédéric Michalak. Both converted by candidate for player of the year, Michalak. But they had been denied four more either the referee John Lacey his television arbitrator Simon McDowell as Toulon except for once, rejected penalty kicking options and concentrated on battering the Sale goal line.
Meanwhile Johnny Wilkinson moves serenely forward. Whether he really could figure in Warren Gatland’s Lions plans will make no difference to his clear feeling that if he is to sign with anyone for another season it will only be with Toulon. He is the darling of the town and, if there is a combination of a purr and a roar, that was what greeted him when he came on in the 68th minute.
By then it was all over. Seven tries, six of them converted by the man Wilko was replacing, Michalak, The Toulonnais had 50 on the board without reply, another was to come from Rudi Wolf, a ninth from David Smith and the mission was accomplished.
Sale coach John Mitchell, with Bryan Redpath still involved, is working on a different drawing board, not European survival, which has gone, but an English premiership revival.
“I have no regrets,” said Mitchell afterwards. “In the end we got what we deserved. Some of the team disappointed me. I’ve seen some character revealed. I don’t have a lot of choice in some positions.”
Scorers; Tries; Botha, Michalak, van Niekerk (2), Kubriashvili, S Armitage, D Armitage, Wulf, Smith; Convs; Michalak (6), Wilkinson; Pen; Michalak.
TOULON: D Armitage (rep M Basteraud, 62); R Wulf, M Mermoz, M Giteau, D Smith; F Michalak (rep J Wilkinson, 68), S Tillous-Borde; G Jenkins ( rep A Sheridan, 58), J-C Orioli (rep S Bruno, 58), D Kubriashvili (rep C Hayman, 58), B Botha (rep. S Shaw, 39), N Kennedy, P Gunther (rep J Suta, 66), J van Niekerk (Capt) (rep J Fernandez-Lobbe, 70), S Armitge.
Scorers: Try; Conv; Pen; Drop goal:
SALE: C Shepherd; M Jennings, M Cueto, J Leota, R Miller (rep S Tuitupou, 47) ; D Cipriani, W Cliff ; R Harrison (rep V Cobilas, 63), A Croali, E Roberts (rep T Buckley, 47), R Gray, F McKenzie (rep C Amesbury, 71), J Gaskell (rep A Powell, 47), D Seymour (Capt), R Vernon.
Referee: J Lacey (IRL)
Man of the match: Steffon Armitage