Toulon prepare for Munster clash with easy win against Catalan rivals
Perpignan on verge of relegation after defeat to European champions
Toulon outhalf Jonny Wilkinson: doubt against Munster with hamstring injury. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Toulon warmed up for their meeting with Munster on Sunday by pushing Perpignan on towards the verge of relegation from the French top flight.
In a game moved over the border by their Catalan opponents to Barcelona’s Olympic Stadium, the European champions moved to the summit of the Top 14 by cruising to a 46-31 win on Saturday.
It was a remarkably clinical performance from Toulon, who ran in four tries. Bernard Laporte’s team also had two chalked off either side of half-time as Perpignan eventually found themselves fire-fighting in all areas of the pitch.
The visiting team showed nine changes from the one that beat Leinster in the Heineken Cup quarter-final, including a new front row. With the likes of Juan Smith, Danie Rossouw and Mathieu Bastareaud all rested, it suggests that Toulon are saving plenty of ammunition for this weekend’s semi-final showdown in Marseille.
However, Toulon backs coach Pierre Mignoni warned that beating a Perpignan side clearly low on confidence was not the same as overcoming a Munster team that had already won twice against the same opposition this season.
Punished by the Irish
“We have to remain humble after this victory,” said the former Toulon scrumhalf
. “At times we lacked discipline and we definitely won’t get away with that against the Irish.”
Forwards coach Jacques Delmas made a similar observation, noting that Toulon had gifted Perpignan early points by conceding penalties even though they had not been in danger.
In their first real attack, after just three phases, Toulon flanker Virgile Bruni crossed in the corner to give them a 16-11 lead on the half hour.
France hooker Guilhem Guirado replied after a magical burst from former Munster centre Lifeimi Mafi but Steffon Armitage made it two tries apiece before the break at which point Toulon led 26-18.
With scoreboard pressure mounting on Perpignan, the visitors were highly impressive in the third quarter. Rudi Wulf cut through for two tries and Freddie Michalak finished with 26 points overall as he missed just one kick.
Toulon flyhalf Jonny Wilkinson is a doubt for the Munster game with a hamstring injury so Michalak’s excellent performance was a major plus point.
Fierce Munster encounter
“It will be ferocious,” Michalak said. “There’ll be a big confrontation up front, especially when it comes to driving mauls, the area that Munster excel in.”
The only potential downside for Toulon was an injury to full-back Delon Armitage, who hobbled off towards the end.
South African wing Bryan Habana also had to withdraw before the game after feeling a twinge in his thigh.
“Bryan had nothing special,” revealed Laporte. “If this was a final, he would have played.”
Toulon president Mourad Boudjellal believes that his club are underdogs for the clash with Munster. “They have a lot less injuries than us . . . we’re a rank outsider for this European Cup semi-final.”