Edinburgh steel exposes lack of unity among galacticos
If ever there was a match to remind us that rugby is, above all, a team game, it was this one-sided Champions Cup encounter at the Stade Mayol. In one corner you had Edinburgh’s hungry up-and-comers; facing them was the rudderless collection of galacticos whose only connection seemed to be their Toulon shirts and the humongous quantities of euros received from owner Mourad Boudjellal.
There was no contest. Edinburgh were comfortably the superior team. Starting the tournament as 14-1 outsiders to reach the knockout stages, they top the pool with 19 points. If they beat Montpellier at Murrayfield next week they will rightly be rewarded with a home quarter-final.
“The way we controlled the game in that second half was as well as we’ve played,” said coach Richard Cockerill. “We coughed the ball up a lot in that first half but we knew that if we put them under pressure then we would have opportunities. This puts us in a great position to qualify, but we haven’t qualified yet.”
Edinburgh’s evening got off to the worst possible start when Grant Gilchrist failed to claim the kick-off and Bill Mata gave away a penalty, Toulon kicking to the corner for hooker Guilhem Guirado to force his way over with barely a minute on the clock.
But when Mathieu Bastareaud infringed at a ruck, Jaco van der Walt kicked the visitors off the mark. Four minutes later, James Johnstone’s mazy run took him into the Toulon 22, and a superb Jamie Ritchie offload put Darcy Graham into space down the touchline, the diminutive wing running over fullback Mathieu Smaili to touch down.
From a line-out drive, No8 Raphael Lakafia was hauled down inches short and flanker Fecunda Isa dotted down. Anthony Belleau’s conversion gave Toulon a 12-8 cushion at the break.
Van der Walt had missed a last-gasp 40-metre penalty before the break, and Edinburgh appeared to have let more points slip straight after the restart when they kicked for the corner only to lose the line-out. But from the next line-out Johnstone put through a delightful grubber that popped up into Blair Kinghorn’s arms, Van der Walt converting the try.
As Toulon’s heads went down and the Frenchmen fell off tackles, Edinburgh turned the screw. Two penalties put them nine points clear, but the best was yet to come. Toulon threw caution to the wind and worked their way into Edinburgh’s 22 only for prop Marcel van der Merwe to knock-on. Man of the match Mata picked up and weaved his way past several tacklers before hitting the halfway line and throwing an audacious one-hand offload to Johnstone, whose inspired one-handed take enabled him to go over from halfway.
Despite a late Julian Savea try, that was game, set and match.
In clear: James Johnstone gets the third try