Glasgow would find a lot to admire in Toulon, a fiery home support for a solid base of local players and some international talent. If perhaps the raft of galacticos is not something Townsend would aspire to, there is plenty else in the former shipbuilding town that Glasgow could pay attention to. They even seem to have some sort of haka chant.
Glasgow took the field in sunny Toulon as massive underdogs against Bernard Laporte’s side, and the opening exchanges were high tempo and fierce.
Livewire Niko Matawalu showed he had come to compete early on with a length of the field effort chalked off for a cheeky knock on that he somehow managed to make look like an interception.
That gave the smattering of Glasgow fans hope but Jonny Wilkinson reminded them soon after what a trial lay ahead for Glasgow. The Englishman took a penalty kick to open the scoring then minutes later he set the Toulon attack flying with a leaping interception that set free Giteau, Mermoz and Armitage for a stunning try.
Glasgow responded gamely but pressure over the tackle was immense from Toulon’s defence. Strauss usually never fails to make ground but Bakkies Botha et al were yielding little either with or without ball. Their handling and awareness out wide was fantastic with Matt Giteau’s offloading creating a second try for Mermoz this time, although there was a hint of the forward in the final diving pass.
17 minutes gone, 17-0 to Toulon.
It was bad news in the set piece too for Glasgow with Welsh in particular given a torrid time and huge power coming through as soon as the ball was in. But this unit is not like anything many of these Glasgow players would have faced, even those that have played at international level. Of course it is the same all over the pitch and the constant threat had Glasgow’s defensive alignment looking shoogly.
Toulon could seemingly do anything they wanted. Massive touchfinders? Check. Offloads out the back door? Quick line-outs? Check. Pick and drive try? Check. Needless to say, Wilkinson was kicking all his goals too.
In short, it was disarray for Glasgow and they were unable to impose themselves at all in the first half. Any ball they did have was fumbled, or kicked away. Matawalu is always mercurial but can be rash if things aren’t working for him. Giving away a penalty for putting a fumbled ball over the hoarding was hardly constructive, even if it was just used as some goal-kicking practice for Delon Armitage. Wilkinson went off injured and Freddie Michalak came on.
When Dunbar went off with an injury they lost a key midfield lynchpin and Mermoz took advantage for his second try and the bonus point.
This wasn’t a fighting rearguard, it was damage limitation.
HT Toulon 34-0 Glasgow
Glasgow came out firing in the second half though, after a few wobbly passes Bennett and McGuigan combined in behind the Toulon defensive line and DTH Van Der Merwe found it surprisingly easy to get over for Glasgow’s first points.
It wasn’t a lack of heart – it never is – but they looked occasionally naive in the first half and a talking to sorted their attitude a little bit with an increase in intensity. Strauss and Swinson suddenly were able to make ground and Matuwalu wasted less ball when he didn’t have to go looking for it as a 9.
Of course Toulon were soon back in the Glasgow half and frustration caused Mark Bennett to hold on to Michalak’s leg unnecessarily after they had disentangled. Toulon chose the line-out and it was refreshing to see Glasgow making them at least work for the next try, but Giteau still waltzed through the defence when the quick ball moved past the forwards.
More of the same? Luckily, no.
Glasgow were chasing a lost cause but Jackson found some space through the midfield and Matawalu was on hand to get them a second try. It was a giant game of sevens but McGuigan and Matawalu love that stuff probably more than Danie Roussouw or Carl Hayman. The scoreboard was still forlorn to look at, but Glasgow had at least turned up.
There was more to come as Seymour – who had been quiet until then – burst through a gap and fed Kalman who delayed his pass nicely to pop it up to the marauding Jonny Gray. Jackson converted to make it 41-21. A losing try bonus became a distinct possibility, if Toulon could keep their foot off the gas a bit longer.
Matawalu had been the clear threat since moving to 9 and defenders chasing him was creating space for the others to pop into. Jackson, Maitland and Bennett suddenly found holes that simply hadn’t been there before, and DTH capitalised as he does so well. His second try came on 63 minutes: Glasgow had a bonus point, and considering Toulon had apparently only conceded 7 tries this season in the Top 14, they looked a little porous.
Michalak kicked a penalty to keep the margin three scores but at 44-28 the home crowd were getting testy. It was breathless entertainment.
Glasgow, to their credit, had turned the game from embarrassment to rugby spectacle.
Lamont and Hogg were out injured, but they perhaps missed the level head of Chris Cusiter early on, and Swinson playing at blindside may have been an experiment that bulked up the pack but kept out the powerful Rob Harley.
Perhaps a little wounded in the pride stakes, Toulon reimposed their dominance for the last five minutes as Glasgow tired and their bench ran out of forwards. Giteau made the most of a straggling defence to get the game’s final try and reassure the home fans they hadn’t given up.
In the end Glasgow emerged with the respect they deserved, but they will need to learn to contain the opening salvos from these powerful teams to give themselves a chance.
They’ll also need to remember they have salvos of their own to fire too.
SRBlog Man of the Match: Probably Matawalu, as usual but only in the second half. Toulon treated him as a threat but ignored the rest, to their cost. A rash penalty aside, young Bennett was very impressive at this level and Jonny Gray looked similarly comfortable at this level.