Sexton does little wrong but Wilkinson and Toulon dominate
Fans get behind home team as English outhalf takes the plaudits with 16-point haul
Toulon 41 Racing Metro 14: Jonathan Sexton did little wrong in Toulon last night but his star-studded Racing Metro side was blown away in the battle of the French heavyweights. In the process Jonny Wilkinson produced a class performance to win the first battle of the most expensive outhalves in world rugby hands down.
Sexton landed all three of his penalties but Racing Metro were nearly always on the backfoot in a heated contest which saw the crowd gather outside the port venue three hours before kick-off and which ended with several dust-ups in the closing minutes when Toulon were coasting to victory. Both sides finished with 14 men when Martin Castrogiavanni and Toulon’s Eddy Ben Arous were red-carded in a flare-up involing a host of players.
Wilkinson set the bar for what Sexton needs to achieve when he produced a man-of-the-match display which yielded a flawless 16 points with the boot — five conversions, a penalty and a drop goal — as well as a series of sublime touches in open play as he made the most of a dominant pack.
Conditions were ideal for the clash of the heavyweights at Stade Mayol with a light breeze coming in from the Mediterranean on a warm night.
The atmosphere created by the full house of home supporters ensured a hostile welcome for Jonathan Sexton and his teammates and the outhalf could have done without a delay of several minutes at the start as he waited to kick off while referee Romain Poite — no stranger to Munster and Irish fans — had his audio equipment sorted.
It didn’t take long for the home fans to taunt Sexton when an audacious drop goal from 40 metres out on the right wing, after just half a minute, missed the target.
Both Sexton and Wilkinson attracted plenty of attention from the opposing backrows, while the Irishman also had the crowd to contend with and they gave it full voice when he sent a crossfield kick directly to touch after three minutes.
The Racing Metro scrum was in some degree of difficulty from the outset and the visitors struggled to win clean possession off their own ball. Inevitably, Wilkinson was involved in the opening try and the capacity home crowd of over 14,500 were on their feet when he helped Maxime Mermoz and Matt Giteau combine to send Kiwi winger David Smith over under the posts after eight minutes.
Wilkinson added the easy conversion but Racing Metro hit back immediately and Sexton, taking the maximum time to compose himself, displayed nerves of steel to steer a 25 metre penalty from just to the left between the posts despite all the heckling.
Racing were denied a try after 18 minutes when the television match official, after taking an age to make his decision, ruled that Adrien Plante’s pass to his number eight Masinivanu Matadigo was forward and with Sexton preparing to slot the conversion, a scrum was awarded which Racing Metro lost.
A yellow card to Toulon flanker Virgile Bruni presented Sexton with his second kick, this time just to the left on the 22, and again he kept his nerve to steer it home and make it 7-6. But Toulon, who drew their opening game 22-22 away to Montpellier, finished the half stronger and it was their skipper Wilkinson who led the way.
He slotted a trademark drop goal with his left boot after 29 minutes after good pressure and then split the posts on the stroke of half-time from 38 metres on the left touchline to make it 13-6 at the interval.
The game went further away from Racing Metro seven minutes after the restart as Toulon piled on the pressure and were rewarded when scrumhalf Sebastien Tillous-Borde touched down under the posts, with Wilkinson again adding the easy conversion.
As with Toulon’s first try, Racing were given a chance to reduce the margin almost immediately and Sexton negotiated a tricky angle from the left to make it 20-9 after 50 minutes.
Toulon struck again, and this time there was no way back for Sexton and co. Tillous-Borde was the creator and lock Jocelino Suta finished, with the unerring Wilkinson again adding the points.
The fourth try, on the hour, was made by a touch of class from Wilkinson, when he displayed lightning hands to set in motion a move which finished with Giteau scoring under the posts.
The wheels came off for Racing Metro after that and replacement scrumhalf Fabrice Estebanez had a wild attacking pass intercepted by Smith, who ran from just outside his own 22 for his second try, with Wilkinson again adding the conversion in front of the posts.
Racing got over for a consolation try in the final play of the night but it did not disguise they were massively outplayed.
TOULON: D Armitage; V Martin, M Mermoz, M Gitteau, D Smith; J Wilkinson, S Tillous Borde; A Sheridan, B Noirot, C Hayman; B Botha, J Suta; V Bruni, S Armitage, M Masoe. Replacements: D Rossouw for Botha, M Castrogiovanni for Hayman, X Chiocci for Sheridan, M Claassens for Borde, all 54 mins; S Bruno for Noirot, 56 mins; M Bastareaud for Mermoz, 59 mins; P Gunther for Masoe, 70 mins.
RACING METRO: B Lapeyre; A Plante, H Chavancy, J Roberts, M Andreu; J Sexton, S Descons; S Tonga Uiha, D Szarzewski, B Mujati; F Metz, F Van Der Merwe; W Lauret, B Le Roux, M Matadigo. Replacements: L Ducalon for Mujati, V Lacombe for Szarzewski, E Ben Arous for Tonga Uiha, all 55 mins; L Magnaval for Descons, 57 mins; D Lydiate for Le Roux, 58 mins; F Extebanex for Roberts, 61 mins; J Wisniewski for Sexton, 66 mins.
Referee: R Poite (FFR).