Toulon smash Ulster to book European Qtr final

Current champions Toulon became the first team to reach the European Champions Cup quarter-finals when they powered to a 60-22 victory over Ulster at Stade Felix Mayol.

Former England flanker Steffon Armitage scored a hat-trick as the reigning champions earnt a bonus point after running in eight tries through Nicolas Sanchez, Bryan Habana, Mathieu Bastareaud, Martin Castrogiovanni, Armitage’s treble and Mamuka Gorgodze.

Leigh Halfpenny kicked 20 points for the hosts while Ulster curiously managed an attacking bonus point with four tries of their own from Paddy Jackson, Mike McComish, Jared Payne and Lewis Stevenson.

The try-fest — 12 in total — gave Toulon a five-point lead over Leicester, who got a bonus point in a 40-23 thrashing of Scarlets on Friday night, at the top of Pool 3.

As Toulon took five competition points compared to Leicester’s four in the two games between the sides, the French champions cannot now be overtaken by the Tigers.

Leicester will need to win away to Ulster in their final group match next weekend, and probably with a bonus point too, if they are to join Toulon in the last eight.

Ulster came into the match knowing that only an unlikely upset would keep their faint hopes alive and for the first half hour, they remained in contention.

Toulon had raced into a 10-0 lead after Sanchez found a gap in the away defence to touch down under the posts, with Halfpenny converting and adding a penalty.

But a pair of tries from Jackson and McComish, either side of another penalty from British and Irish Lions star Halfpenny, left the score at 13-10 on the half hour mark.

But South Africa wing Habana finished off a sweeping backs move and burly centre Bastareaud burst through the defence before completing two full rolls to get over the tryline as Toulon turned the screw.

Halfpenny converted both and the champions led 27-10 at the break.

The bonus point try arrived on 49 minutes as Italy prop Martin Castrogiovanni finished off a set five-metre line-out move down the blindside.

Toulon turned on the style and stretched Ulster all over the pitch before Armitage scored in the right corner from Sebastien Tillous-Borde’s long pass that bypassed all covering defenders.

The swashbuckling French side then ran the ball through the hands from inside their own half — with all three front-rowers getting involved — before replacement flanker Gorgodze touched down.

Armitage scored his second with a simple catch-and-drive from a close range line-out to bring up the half century as Halfpenny continued his immaculate kicking with a ninth successful goal.

Ulster may have been outclassed but Payene collected Ian Humphreys’s grubber kick to finish off an excellent move, before Stevenson was driven over from a driving maul.

But Armitage had the last word with his hat-trick after a quickly taken tap penalty.

Final Score Toulon 60 (27) Ulster 22 (10)


Tries : Sanchez, Habana, Bastareaud, Castrogiovanni, Armitage (3), Gordodze
Pen : Halfpenny (2)
Con : Sanchez, Halfpenny (6)
Drop :

Tries : Jackson, McComish (2), Payne
Pen :
Con : Pienaar
Drop :

Match Officials
Leighton Hodges (Wales),
Assistant ref: Wayne Davies (Wales),
Assistant ref: Greg Morgan (Wales),
TMO: Gareth Simmonds (Wales),
Citing Commissioner: Buster White (England)

RC Toulon: Leigh Halfpenny; Drew Mitchell, Mathieu Bastareaud, Maxime Mermoz, Bryan Habana; Nicolas Sanchez, Sebastien Tillous-Borde; Xavier Chiocci, Guilhem Guirado, Martin Castrogiovanni, Jocelino Suta, Jocelino Suta, Juan Smith, Steffon Armitage, Chris Masoe (c)

Replacements: Jean-Charles Orioli, Florian Fresia, Carl Hayman, Mamuka Gorgodze, Rudi Wulf, David Smith, Eric Escande, Romain Taofifenua

Ulster Rugby: Jared Payne; Louis Ludik, Darren Cave, Stuart Olding, Michael Allen; Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar; Andy Warwick, Rob Herring, Bronson Ross, Alan O’Connor, Franco Van Der Merwe, Clive Ross, Mike McComish, Roger Wilson (c)

Replacements: John Andrew, Callum Black, Declan Fitzpatrick, Lewis Stevenson, Robbie Diack, Paul Marshall, Ian Humphreys, Michael Heaney

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