Read a full match report of the Heineken Cup game between Cardiff Blues and Toulon at Arms Park on Saturday Oct 19 2013.
From humiliation to ecstasy in just six days. This quite stunning victory from Cardiff Blues, against the reigning champions no less, completed a week in which they had sacked their defence coach and serious questions had been asked about the position of their director of rugby Phil Davies after last Sunday’s humbling at Exeter.
The scenes at the end, after replacement Gareth Davies had scored the match-winning try with three minutes remaining, were joyous, with spectators pouring onto the artificial pitch to acclaim the home side.
The sight of British and Irish Lions captain Sam Warburton punching the air in pure delight as Davies scored summed up how much this meant to a side that had been pilloried all week.
They showed great pride and courage in atoning for the Exeter embarrassment with some extraordinary physical sacrifices against much bigger opponents, and they possessed the game’s outstanding player in No 8 Robin Copeland, whose powerful carrying made a nonsense of his omission last weekend and elsewhere this season.
“Days like that are why you play the game,” Copeland said. “I loved every single second of that. Man of the match in the Heineken Cup against the champions? I don’t think it gets any better than that.”
That said, Toulon were quite dreadful. They were complacent and flat, relying on Jonny Wilkinson’s boot to provide their 15 points. Only when Cardiff had scored, with the clock ticking down, did they wake from their slumbers and show any urgency. Otherwise they just presumed that their superior power, and a scrummage that became increasingly dominant in the second half, would see them through. That it did not was justice in action. They simply did not deserve to win.
It had been 6-6 at half-time, with the highlight of a scrappy half a quite astonishing penalty from Cardiff’s young fly-half Rhys Patchell to give the hosts the lead. When the penalty had been awarded just inside the Cardiff half and only just inside the touchline, it was assumed that Leigh Halfpenny, renowned for his distance kicking, would step up. But instead Patchell did, and nailed it from around 60 metres with something to spare. It was a remarkable kick.
Patchell is a highly promising young player in a very young Cardiff back line, but his desire to drop goals from halfway – something he achieved in a pre-season match against Sale – might be something he could look to temper. He tried it twice in the first half and failed badly on both occasions.
With the wind behind him and the rain at times torrential, Patchell tested Delon Armitage with some well-weighted high kicks, and Cardiff enjoyed most of the territory.
Toulon, though, thought they had scored the only try of the half when wing Josua Tuisova touched down after a scruffy movement down the right. But after consultation with the Television Match Official the score was disallowed because of a forward pass. The use of the TMO is to be applauded, but surely big screens should now be compulsory at all grounds so that the spectators can share in the drama, otherwise it is just another tedious delay, as happened here later when it took an eternity for a Cardiff penalty to be confirmed.
This again was inside their own half but this time Halfpenny stepped up, but his attempt was wide. However, he made sure with a much easier effort soon afterwards to cancel out two Wilkinson penalties for Toulon.
When Wilkinson kicked two more after the break, you suspected that Toulon would take control, but Armitage kicked dead all the way from his own 22 and from the resultant scrummage, Cardiff were awarded a penalty that Halfpenny duly kicked. That was a simple kick, but the one 10 minutes later, from wide on the left, was much harder. But he still kicked it and matters were level again.
Unfortunately for Halfpenny he was then penalised – perhaps harshly – for a late tackle on Tuisova, and Wilkinson put Toulon ahead with nine minutes left.
But Cardiff were not done, and were presented with a position in the Toulon half when Maxime Mermoz knocked on Frédéric Michalak’s awful, bouncing pass.
Young centre Cory Allen made the initial thrust as he stepped off his left foot and beat three defenders. Warburton, Josh Navidi and Gethin Jenkins then all carried hard before Davies took the ball at speed running right. He went past Wilkinson and Mermoz, before Michalak’s tackle sent up in the air, but his momentum carried him over. Halfpenny’s conversion meant the penalties Toulon then received were not enough. They did pound hard at the Blues’ line, but the home defence stayed intact and when the ball was knocked on, the Arms Park erupted.
It was a rather nice 50th birthday present for the under-fire boss Davies, who, according to Copeland, was in tears in the dressing room afterwards.
Cardiff, who remarkably nicked a bonus point in that Exeter debacle, are now back in this Pool 2, with their only worry a leg injury for wing Alex Cuthbert.
Scores: 3-0 Patchell pen, 3-3 Wilkinson pen, 3-6 Wilkinson pen, 6-6 Halfpenny pen, 6-9 Wilkinson pen, 6-12 Wilkinson pen, 9-12 Halfpenny pen, 12-12 Halfpenny pen, 12-15 Wilkinson pen, 17-15 G Davies try, 19-15 Halfpenny con.
Cardiff: L Halfpenny; A Cuthbert (R Smith 40), O Williams, C Allen, H Robinson; R Patchell (G Davies 72), L Williams; G Jenkins (capt), M Breeze (K Dacey 75), S Andrews (B Bourrust 59), B Davies, F Paulo (L Reed 75), J Navidi, S Warburton, R Copeland.
Toulon: D Armitage; J Tuisova, M Mermoz, M Giteau, R Wulf; J Wilkinson (capt), F Michalak; X Chiocci (E Felsina 40), J C Orioli (B Noirot 40), M Castrogiovanni ( C Hayman 40), B Botha (J Suta 46), A Williams, J M Fernandez Lobbe, S Armitage (J Smith 69), C Masoe.
Referee: JP Doyle (England)