Glasgow’s sorry European campaign ended with a whimper rather than a bang as Gregor Townsend’s side went down fighting against the European Champions despite having the consolation of scoring the only try of the match.
Scorers: Glasgow: Try: Fusaro. Pen: Jackson. Toulon: Pens: Wilkinson 5.
Jonny Wilkinson has hammered the Scots often enough in the past and the classy English stand-off was once again Toulon’s main man with five penalties from seven attempts. He fluffed his first and last shots but the five in between were enough for Toulon to pocket the points and ensure a home quarter-final.
Glasgow played their part in an utterly absorbing game and went some way towards redeeming their reputation after conceding a whopping six tries in the corresponding fixture in the south of France. Tim Swinson and Leone Nakawara burnished their reputations as did the back row who were tireless in taking the fight to Toulon.
Their problems came in the set scrum where Moray Low got on the wrong side of the referee and Glasgow paid the price. The first few scrums were rock solid, the rest were decidedly creaky, Low was penalised and Wilkinson did the rest despite Glasgow looking by far the most dangerous of the two teams.
This was down to Stuart Hogg as much as anyone else. The full-back was back to his best because he caught everything that was thrown at him, he sliced open the notoriously mean Toulon defence several times and was unlucky not to create a try the very first time it happened.
Early in the first half Hogg caught a kick, stepped inside the first defender and hit the afterburners. He scorched up the left flank but just possibly his pass to Nico Matawalu was a split second too early. The little Fijian juggled the ball, the crowd held their breath, he gathered but the delay gave his opposite number Drew Mitchell the time to chase back and made the all-important tackle.
The first half saw just nine points with the first of them not coming until the 27th minute of the match when Jonny Wilkinson slotted the first of his five penalties after Ryan Wilson was pinged for not releasing the tackled player.
Ruaridh Jackson levelled the scores on the stand-off’s 100th appearance for the club but, worryingly for Glasgow, Wilkinson’s second penalty just before the half-time break came directly from the set scrum. Low was judged by the referee JP Doyle to be the culprit when the set scrum collapsed. He was directly or indirectly responsible for three of Wilkinson’s first four penalties which must be a worry for the Scotland management with Euan Murray injured and unavailable. Low was one of three players substituted on 52 minutes, with the big tighthead giving way to Ed Kalman.
Trailing by nine points early in the second half Glasgow were thrown a lifeline when Sebastien Tillous-Borde took out Alex Dunbar after the centre chipped ahead. Duncan Weir had just entered the fray and the first thing the stand-off did was kick the ensuing penalty dead.
Worse was to follow. Toulon’s hooker Craig Burden made a clean break through the middle of a ruck and Matawalu slapped down his pass and promptly followed Tillous-Borde into the sin bin. Wilkinson converted that penalty and the visitors enjoyed a 12-point lead which was a huge advantage given the underfoot conditions meant that tries were as rare as a Scottish club in the quarters.
To their credit the home forwards thought differently. Glasgow kicked another penalty to the corner, drove a maul 20 yards and earned another penalty. Another lineout, another maul, Toulon stole possession, Matt Giteau was charged down, Wilkinson tidied up, Glasgow piled on the pressure and with the ball sitting just over the try line Chris Fusaro simply lent over the ruck and pressed down on the ball to claim a bizarre try, as the TMO confirmed.
Weir missed the conversion but Glasgow were now one converted try away from their illustrious opponents and the crowd came to life. The final few minutes were breathless stuff. There was one brilliant chance when Richie Vernon, on for his first ever professional game at centre, broke up the left wing but somehow failed to feed Hogg who was in support. Glasgow retained possession but Toulon reorganised and the home side threw everything at a determined defence in a frantic finale.
Cusiter tried to break the deadlock with a chip but only because the penalty was coming. Glasgow put every man bar the scrum-half into the lineout and drove for the Toulon line. The maul was dropped and after umpteen attacks left, right and centre the game finished tamely when Weir threaded the ball behind the Toulon defence and straight into touch.
It was a suitably agonising end to what has been a fraught Heineken Cup campaign.
Glasgow Warriors: S Hogg, S Maitland, S Lamont, A Dunbar, N Matawalu, R Jackson, H Pyrgos, R Grant, P MacArthur, M Low, L Nakarawa, T Swinson, J Eddie, C Fusaro (capt), R Wilson.
Replacements: D Hall, JYanuyanutawa, E Kalman, T Ryder, T Holmes, C Cusiter, D Weir, R Vernon.
Toulon: D. Armitage, D. Mitchell, Bastareaud, Giteau, D. Smith, Wilkinson, Tillous-Borde, Sheridan, Burden, Hayman, Botha, Suta, J. Smith, van Niekerk, S. Armitage.
Replacements: Orioli, Chiocci, Chilachava, Bruni, Wulf, Mermoz, Michalak, Mikautadze.