Leicester’s Heineken Cup dream came to an end for another season yesterday when Toulon, held their nerve to beat Tigers 21-15 at the Stade Felix Mayol.
The much billed duel of the fly-half captains did not fail to disappoint and somewhat inevitably it was the master, Jonny Wilkinson, who walked away from the encounter the victor; sealing the win in the 78th minute with a trademark drop goal to end Tigers’ hope of a heroic comeback.
The man described in the run-up to match as his apprentice, Toby Flood, had an equally strong showing, kicking five out of his six shots at the posts but a series of yellow cards, the first to Flood and the second to Dan Cole - both for intentional knock-ons, shifted the momentum into the home side’s favour.
Leicester were brave beyond belief in their defensive efforts to stem the Toulon side. The physical toll of the match claimed many victims with Tom Croft and Marcos Ayerza, who both played out of their skins will on the pitch, both forced off with injuries.
With Wilkinson at the helm, Toulon were ruthlessly efficient when in range but Leicester should feel proud to have prevented the French Top 14 leaders from crossing the try line. Leading the chopping-down of the Mediterranean superstars were England hooker Tom Youngs, openside flanker Julian Salvi and centre Anthony Allen who never tired in their efforts.
Toulon almost broke the try scoring deadlock twice, the first through a fit and powerful Mathieu Bastareaud who was only just manfully shepherded into touch by Adam Thompstone. Bakkies Botha crawled his way over the try line in the second half but the referee correctly pulled him back for a double movement.
Leicester’s scrum was magnificent throughout, insulting the Toulon pack which is used dominating on their home turf.
However Tigers rarely threatened the Toulon defence and were unable to get their most devastating runner, Manu Tuilagi, effectively into the action. The England centre, with high hopes of making the British and Irish Lions tour of Australia, was overshadowed by his opposite number Bastareaud.
The standout performance amongst the backs came from Matthew Tait, who was brilliant at full back, fielding all but one high ball launched at him and more than once turning defence into attack by sparking to life and setting off down-field.
The former England international was brought into the Tigers set up as an eventual replacement for Geordan Murphy. Finally, it seems Tait might be ready to fill those large shoes.
The result means that Leicester will have to turn their full attention to the Aviva Premiership, with London Wasps up next at Welford Road on Sunday, 3.45pm kick off.
Overall it was a tough weekend for the English clubs, with Aviva Premiership champions Harlequins losing to Munster 18-12 leaving only Saracens left to represent the home of rugby, having defeated Ulster 27-16 at Twickenham on Saturday.
In other news
Excitement is building ahead of a legends match in aid of Louis Deacon’s Benefit Year and the Matt Hampson Foundation which will be played on Sunday, April 21.
Trotting out for the Leicester Legends XV will be: Former-captain Martin Johnson, Graham Rowntree, Richard Cockerill and Darren Garforth, Julian White, Tim Stimpson, Leon Lloyd, Peter Short, Jeremy Staunton, Ollie Smith, Glenn Gelderbloom, Harry Ellis, Freddie Tuilagi, Aadel Kardooni, Lewis Moody and Dean Richards.
They will face an International Legends XV which includes: Jason Robinson, Josh Lewsey, Serge Betsen, Andy Gomarsall, Henry Paul, Craig Chalmers, Thinus Delport, Mark Robinson, Epi Taione, Budge Poutney, Hugh Vyvyan, Lee Fortey, Jerry Flannery, Anthony Foley, Rob Henderson and Darren Morris.
Tickets for seats in the upper and lower sections of the Caterpillar Stand as well as the seats and terrace in the Holland and Barrett Stand are still available.
All tickets are just £10 adults, £5 children and OAPs.
Family tickets, for two adults and two children, are £20.
To book tickets call the Tigers ticket office on 0844 856 1880.
A matchday bus will be running from Oakham to drop off at Welford Road half an hour before the 3pm kick-off.
The return trip leaves 30 minutes after the final whistle.
Return tickets are £6 adults, £5 concessions and juniors/
Pre-book at the Arriva Travel Shop at St Margaret’s Bus Station by phoning 0116 242 3670 or email firstname.lastname@example.org, or turn up and pay on the day.