Ulster hopes look dead in the water as Toulon show their class
Two-time European winners outmuscle Neil Doak’s side in Belfast
Ulster’s Paddy Jackson and Craig Gilroy tackle Mathieu Bastareaud of Toulon during the European Rugby Champions Cup clash at Kingspan Stadium. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Ulster 13 Toulon 23
Ulster were unlocked by European champions Toulon at Kingspan Stadium to lose only the second of their last 18 home Pool stage matches in European competition.
The defeat puts the province in a hugely difficult position with regard to qualifying for the knock-out stages, having also lost their first match last week to Leicester at Welford Road.
Toulon provided just too much threat out wide and the few opportunities they made in the match, they made sure they counted. With No 8 Chris Masoe making big carries and tackles along with the combative Steffon Armitage and Mathieu Bastareaud, Ulster’s only try came too late to change the course of the game.
Toulon took the lead from two early penalties, Wales’ Halfpenny landing the first for 3-0 and then kicking long for 6-0. But Ulster were far from the disorganised outfit that landed in Welford Road last week.
Craig Gilroy on the wing, Stuart Olding in the centre and the sparky scrumhalf Paul Marshall were all game for breaking forward. But it was Paddy Jackson who brought the game back to three points from Ulster’s first penalty when Steffon Armitage failed to release in a tackle on Olding.
Ulster held the territory well though, with Robbie Diack and captain Rory Best putting in their traditional hard working shifts. Probably they were conceding too many penalties at scrum time but Toulon had lost Juan Fernandez-Lobbe after a few minutes and on the half hour Matt Giteau departed after his defensive kick to touch caught the charging Best.
A late penalty from Halfpenny extended the Toulon lead to 9-3 and that could have been manageable for Ulster but for the French aristocrats final sting of the half.
Another sweeping move down the right and from nothing opened up the Ulster defence with Juan Smith taking it on to Masoe and Masoe handing a falling pass into Habana’s hands to take him is for the try.
Halfpenny converted for 16-3 with the last kick of the half, Ulster surely disappointed with the Habana try and their lack of points from good territory and possession.
Jackson drew a penalty in nicely to make it a 10-point game after Delon Armitage caught Olding with a high tackle and then missed a second from almost the same position. But Ulster weren’t doing enough and despite the wind in their backs Toulon squeezed.
That paid off when a Nick Williams pass was intercepted in midfield by Delon Armitage. A foot race between the two had only one outcome and Armitage strode in under the posts. That killed off any Ulster believe that they could salvage the match, Halfpenny converting an easy one for 23-6 and Toulon sensing a bonus point was possible.
But it was Ulster who ran in a consolation try through Gilroy, Jackson converting for 13-23. Ulster just didn’t offer enough and Toulon did just enough. For most of the match the feeling was there was more in both teams, Toulon now two wins from two and sailing forward, Ulster probably out of contention.
ULSTER: Louis Ludik; Tommy Bowe, Jared Payne, Stuart Olding, Craig Gilroy; Paddy Jackson, Paul Marshall; Andy Warwick, Rory Best (capt), Wiehahn Herbst; Lewis Stevenson, Franco Van Der Merwe; Robbie Diack, Chris Henry, Roger Wilson.
Replacements: Darren Cave for Olding (48 mins), Nick Williams for Stevenson, Callum Black for Warwick (both 53 mins), Ian Humphreys for Ludik (66 mins), Declan Fitzpatrick for Herbst (67 mins), Clive Ross for Wilson, Rob Herring for best (both 76 mins), Michael Heaney for Marshall (77 mins).
TOULON: Leigh Halfpenny; Delon Armitage, Mathieu Bastareaud, Maxime Mermoz, Bryan Habana; Matt Giteau, Michael Claassens; Alexandre Menini, Guilhem Guirado, Carl Hayman (capt); Jocelino Suta, Romain Taofifenua; Juan Fernandez Lobbe, Steffon Armitage, Chris Masoe.
Replacements: Juan Smith for Fernandez Lobbe (1 min), James O’Connor for Giteau (27 mins), Levan Chilachava for Hayman, Bakkies Botha for Taofifenua (both 49 mins), Fabien Barcella for Menini (59 mins), Ali Williams for Suta (67 mins, Craig Burden for Guirado (69 mins). Not used: Sebastien Tillous-Borde.