On Friday, August 16, 2013, Toulon exhibited all the get-up-and-go of The Magic Roundabout’s doped-up rabbit Dylan as they kicked off the new Top 14 season with a laboured, barely deserved draw at Montpellier.
A week later, pundits and fans alike expected them to charge at Racing Metro like a sex-starved rhino on bad acid.
And so they did, as they taught the visitors the most brutal of rugby lessons.
The first scrum of the game came after six minutes. It was closely followed, with near-predictable inevitability, by the first free kick.
From the quick restart, Toulon launched a slick training ground move; Jonny Wilkinson passed out of a tackle to release winger David Smith, who sprinted in unopposed to score under the posts. The Amazing Wilko duly converted.
Wilko’s opposite number, Jonny Sexton had a chance to reduce the deficit soon after, when Toulon conceded a penalty. Which he did.
But the hosts were firmly in the ascendency. They made a mess of Racing’s pack at the night’s second scrum, and were starting to look seriously threatening whenever they had ball in hand – and they had plenty of it.
Racing were creaking. Another scrum led to a another free kick, and rouge et noir wave after rouge et noir wave pounded the visitors’ line.
But then… from somewhere, the ciel et blanc launched an attack that ended with number eight Massi Matadigo slamming the ball down over the line with such force that he was either trying to signal the other side of the world without electronic equipment, or create a new natural wonder in the in-goal area of Stade Mayol. Unfortunately for him, he failed on both counts – and to make matters worse, the try was overruled for a forward pass from Adrien Plante.
At least it signalled that some of Racing’s players – at least – were still convinced they were not just on the pitch to make up numbers.
That said, the pack may as well have been as they gave away yet another free kick at the scrum, before another penalty pushed them back into their own 22.
With 15 minutes of the first half left, Virgile Bruni gave the visitors an ill-deserved chance by getting himself sin-binned. Sexton landed the penalty, and Toulon had to see out the next 10 minutes a man down in the scrum they had previously been dominating.
Unfortunately, scrum half Sebastian Descons promptly made a mess of things, turning an unusually poorly judged Wilko restart into a cunningly audacious way to win a line-out. The drop goal maestro made the visitors pay in his own trademark fashion.
Racing were unable to make their temporary numerical advantage tell in the scrum – and not just because outside centre Maxime Mermoz had been dragged in as a makeshift flanker. Another free kick relieved a rare moment of pressure on the hosts.
The visiting forwards had something to prove, but the first maul of the match, with less than five minutes left in the first half, didn’t go entirely their way. They held onto the ball, though… until be-coiffed French international Dmitri Szarzewski knocked on.
To rub salt into Racing wounds, The Amazing Wilko landed one more penalty – from another scrum would you believe? – after the hooter to make it 13-6 at half time.
Racing’s coaches – the Laurents, Labit and Travers – needed to deliver a half time rollicking from hell to get their shell-shocked charges back into the game. Something along the lines of ‘stop trying to look pretty and play some rugby’. But in French. And probably with swearing.
Unfortunately, whatever they did say didn’t work.
Toulon looked most likely to score immediately after the restart. The Amazing Wilko once again passed out of the tackle, to Steffon Armitage, who charged his way deep into Racing territory, and only a poor pass from the usually reliable Matt Giteau brought this particular move to a disappointing end.
Giteau, just in case anyone had missed it, repeated his naff passing trick soon after – not that the visitors were able to capitalise on either error.
Another Toulon attack, however, started when Maxime Mermoz crashed through a defence that wasn’t there, ended as scrum-half Sebastian Tillous-Borde popped over the line under the posts from close range. Once again, The Amazing Wilko converted.
Soon after, Sexton was able to pull the deficit back to a nearly respectable 11 points, but he really needed some support from the other 14 players on the pitch – and he just wasn’t getting any.
And that was as close as they’d get.
Another Toulon sortie into Racing country proved the point. Simple, quick rugby led to a try for second row Jocelino Suta, which Wilko converted after a brief delay for the TV ref to confirm the final pass wasn’t forward.
It was beyond the time for Sexton to go for goal when the chances came his way. Two kickable penalties in a row were turned down in favour of going for touch as the visitors tried to force their way back into the game.
But unlike Toulon, their ball was slow, laboured and – once they got near the line – going nowhere fast. It briefly looked like Plante had somehow found his way through by the cunning expedient of adding a touch of pace, but the heroic Smith got across to make a try-saving tackle.
The hosts wrecked Racing’s scrum again to send play up to, as far as the visitors were concerned, completely the wrong end of the pitch.
And, just in case anyone was still in any doubt about the result, Giteau ran in another magically simple Toulon move. It’s hardly worth mentioning, but Wilkinson converted.
There was still another quarter of the match to go, which didn’t bode well for Racing… especially when Smith scored one of those length-of-the-pitch interception tries. You know the rest, right?
With five minutes remaining, and the game so far beyond doubt even Thomas would have accepted the result, the referee gave the host’s winger Vincent Martin first go at the hot water for a dangerous tackle; and Racing, trying desperately to salvage something approaching pride, went for the line-out.
Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, it all came to nothing, as Toulon came away with the ball. Strangely, just when it looked easier to score, they made a complete mess of things.
Meanwhile, miles off the ball, handbags had broken out – resulting in red cards for Toulon replacement Martin Castrogiovanni and Racing sub Kharim Ghezal.
And that’s how it should have ended – but, finally, when even pride could not be salvaged, Virgile Lacombe bundled his way over Toulon’s tryline after the hooter had sounded.
Toulon 41 (13)
Racing Metro 14 (6)
Toulon: David Smith (2), Sebastian Tillous-Borde, Jocelino Suta, Matt Giteau
Racing Metro: Virgile Lacombe
Toulon: Wilkinson (5)
Toulon: Wilkinson (2)
Racing Metro: Sexton (3)