Leicester vs Toulon match report: Tigers stun Toulon but champions plot revenge

Leicester 25 Toulon 21

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The Independent Online

European Cup holders Toulon were hauled down a peg or two on a night of high emotion, of smiles and man-hugs between old warriors Brad Thorn and Bakkies Botha, and boiling tempers. The return on the Cote d’Azur on Saturday will be played amid a simmering foment of revenge, if the  post-match reaction is anything to go by.

Steffon Armitage, the French champions and league leaders’ turnover totem, raged that Nigel Owens’ refereeing of the breakdown went all Leicester’s way, while Martin Castrogiovanni, Toulon’s former Leicester prop, commandeered the press room afterwards to use the c-word to describe Tigers’ director of rugby Richard Cockerill in a presumably long-planned complaint at the way his transfer in the summer of 2013 had been publicly portrayed.

“‘Cockers’ says we [Toulon] are playing for the money – well, I paid £100,000 from my pocket to leave this club,” said Castrogiovanni. “Playing for Toulon is not about money, and anyway have Leicester become an amateur club now? I won’t speak to that man any more.”

Cockerill responded magnanimously by saying Toulon had paid a transfer fee for Castrogiovanni and that he did not want the Italy international “to feel bitter”. It seemed much too late for that but as for the unfolding story of European Champions Cup Pool Three, Leicester are well in the mix after producing easily their best performance of the season. In doing so they extended their unbeaten run against French opposition on this ground to 12 matches, stretching back to January 2005, and inflicted Toulon’s first loss to an English club in Europe.

Cockerill said Thorn, Leicester’s 39-year-old All Black, had told him one reason for signing here last summer was to rejoin battle with his Springbok sparring partner, Botha. When the time came, Thorn launched into breakdowns with stunning force and precision. In other areas, though, it was madcap stuff; two teams apparently intent on outdoing each other for outrageous bungles.

Steffon’s brother Delon had just tidied up one fumble for Toulon with a kick downfield when they committed another  faux pas  to gift Leicester the opening try after 18 minutes. Mathew Tait returned Armitage’s hoof with an up and under to Sébastien Tillous-Borde, who threw a wild pass to Drew Mitchell that the Australian could not gather, allowing Tom Youngs to barrel through  and pass to Thorn to score.

Owen Williams’ conversion had Leicester 13-0 up – he had kicked two penalties and would finish with seven successes out of nine. But, just as importantly, the Welsh fly-half recovered his poise after an awful pass was intercepted by Bryan Habana for the try that helped Toulon draw level at 13-all by half-time.

Even without the injured luminaries Matt Giteau, James O’Connor and Leigh Halfpenny, Toulon had an all-international XV, drawn from seven nations. What they lacked was a way of quelling a fired-up Leicester scrum, or the ability to get the right side of Owens and his decisions after the tackle.

Williams kicked three more penalties to put Leicester  22-18 up by the 65th minute, with Toulon having brutally exploited a glaring lapse by Leicester defending the short side of a scrum to put Mitchell over.

Steffon Armitage was charged down in his 22 and Niki Goneva hazarded a daisycutter of a dropped goal as the comedy of errors continued. A penalty by Nicolas Sanchez was followed by the final blow from Williams, in part one of this mini-saga at least: a penalty from just inside his own half. “It is just one win, we will see what happens next week,” said Castrogiovanni, who had  received a warm ovation from the Welford Road crowd, in recognition of his 149 appearances over seven years with Leicester - he still part-owns a restaurant in the city, with backs coach Geordan Murphy.

Line-ups:

Leicester Tigers: M Tait; B Scully, M Smith, A Allen, V Goneva; O Williams, B Youngs (capt, S Harrison 80); M Ayerza (M Rizzo 71), T Youngs (L Ghiraldini 58), D Cole, B Thorn, G Kitchener (G Parling 59), J Gibson, J Salvi, J Crane (R Barbieri 57).

Toulon: D Armitage; D Mitchell, M Bastareaud, M Mermoz, B Habana; N Sanchez (E Escande 55-65), S Tillous-Borde; X Chiocci (F Fresia 57), G Ghirado (JC Orioli 69), M Castrogiivanni (C Hayman 51), B Botha (R Taofifenua 57, J Suta 71), A Williams, M Gorgodze (J Smith 68), S Armitage, C Masoe (capt).

Referee: N Owens (Wales)

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