A strong first-half showing ensured Toulon got their defence of the trophy off to a winning start as they kicked off their Pool 2 campaign with a 51-28 victory over a previously unbeaten Glasgow Warriors.
The French side ran in six tries, Maxime Mermoz went over twice after Delon Armitage’s ninth-minute score, before Chris Masoe ensured a 34-0 interval advantage for the French hosts. Glasgow, however, emerged reinvigorated after the break, Gregor Townsend’s side scoring four times to reduce the deficit to 41-28 and ensure their own bonus point.
A late try from Matt Giteau, his second of the match, and a Frédéric Michalak penalty finally confirmed the points for Toulon in the final minutes. The Frenchman was a substitute for Jonny Wilkinson, who left the field with an injury.
The former England captain was the orchestrator of a brilliant opening period, with the hosts scoring 17 points in as many minutes. Wilkinson also converted Masoe’s try only to leave proceedings with an injury to his right hand.
Glasgow’s fightback was engineered by the interval introduction of DTH van der Merwe, with Niko Matawalu moved to scrum-half. The pair scored three tries between them, with Jonny Gray also going over. Van der Merwe crossed within two minutes of coming on and that gave Glasgow the confidence to throw caution to the wind.
Giteau grabbed one back for Toulon, but then it was all Glasgow with Matawalu, Gray and Van der Merwe again crossing, all of which Ruaridh Jackson converted to cut the gap from 34 points at the break to 13 with 20 minutes still on the clock.
A Michalak penalty steadied the ship for the home side and then Giteau, who started at centre and ended up at outside-half, scampered over for his second try – converted by Michalak – to round off a magnificent match.
Elsewhere, Gloucester director Nigel Davies felt Saturday’s 27-22 win over Perpignan was vital ahead of Saturday’s trip to Munster. “We’ve secured a first home win, which was absolutely fundamental to what we needed if we want to progress,” he said.
“We knew that we were much better than last week [against Exeter], and we just needed to step it up. These type of performances are in this group – it is just a matter of making sure we are more consistent.”
Jim Mallinder, the Northampton director of rugby, was left frustrated after his side opened their campaign with a 19-13 reverse at Castres. “We struggled to get any real quick ball in the contact, we struggled to get on the front foot,” he said after the defeat on Saturday. “When you combine that with hard decisions from the referee, it gets frustrating.”