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Heineken Cup: Wayward Wilkinson has last laugh

Jonny Wilkinson. Picture: PA

Jonny Wilkinson. Picture: PA

ENGLAND World Cup hero Johnny Wilkinson, who had already missed 11 points, landed a 30-metre drop goal five minutes from time as holders Toulon moved to the top of Heineken Cup Pool 2 with a 14-9 win over Exeter.

However, the game was costly for the French side, who lost Bakkies Botha (cut head), fellow Springbok Bryan Habana (hamstring) and Craig Burden (arm) to injury in the first half.

A barrelling run from Florian Fresia put the holders ahead, but penalties from Gareth Steenson (2) and Henry Slade gave Exeter a 9-8 interval lead.

Wilkinson, pictured, missed three successive penalty attempts and, when Toulon were awarded another with 15 minutes left, the capacity Sandy Park crowd ironically chanted “we want Jonny”. But kicking duties were handed over to Matt Giteau, whose three points put Toulon back in front to set up a tense final 15 minutes.

Wilkinson found the mark with his late drop-goal and, although the hosts battled on, they could not find any more points – paying the price in the closing stages when they gave away another penalty when 15 metres from the line.

The win took the French back to the top of Glasgow’s pool, two points ahead of Cardiff.

Toulon director of rugby Bernard Laporte was satisfied with Wilkinson’s move to hand over the kicking responsibility to his Australian team-mate.

“It was only Jonny’s decision because he is the captain,” said former France coach Laporte. “Three of the kicks he missed were from long range. Jonny is not a robot – he is a human being like everyone else. We knew before the start that Exeter can play well but we also played well and the difference was good enough,” he said.

“It was important for us to win one game outside of France but the competition is not over yet.

“We have a number of injuries after this game with Bakkies Botha, Bryan Habana and Craig Burden but that is the way with rugby.”

The two sides meet again at Stade Felix Mayol next Saturday.

Harlequins recorded their first Heineken Cup win of the season as they stunned Racing Metro 32-8 in Paris.

Tries from Nick Evans, Nick Easter, Charlie Walker and Karl Dickson gave the London side a brilliant bonus point to belatedly kickstart their Pool 4 campaign.

Saracens boosted their hopes of qualifying for the last eight with a bonus-point 39-10 win over Zebre in Italy.

Tries for George Kruis, Ernst Joubert and Chris Wyles had the game won by half-time for a dominant Saracens. Chris Ashton added two more after the break before Samuela Vunisa scored a late consolation for the home side.

Last season’s runners-up Clermont Auvergne extended their remarkable unbeaten home record to 68 matches after overcoming a spirited Scarlets side 32-11 at Stade Marcel-Michelin.

The French side notched tries from Jamie Cudmore, Napolioni Nalaga’s (2) and Clement Ric. A Rhodri Williams try and a penalty apiece from Rhys Priestland and Jordan Williams was all the Welsh could conjure despite a battling effort.

 

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