Veteran Argentine international Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe is doubtful for Saturday’s Champions Cup quarter-final against Munster but the task facing Peter O’Mahony’s men was laid out in no uncertain terms in Toulon yesterday.
Toulon 49 Clermont Auvergne 0:
Fernandez Lobbe limped off before the break but such is the array of talent available to Fabien Galthie that the retired Puma will scarcely be missed if he doesn’t reach Limerick.
Galthie opted to rest Ma’a Nonu yesterday and partner another All Black, Malakai Fekitoa, with stand-in captain Mathieu Bastareaud in a devastating midfield combination that tore Clermont asunder.
Fekitoa, only recently added to their European squad after his move from the Highlanders, has only chalked up half a dozen games for his new employers but he has settled in well and will present a new threat next week.
He scored either side of half-time in a man-of-the-match display and was constantly involved in most of their better moves as they ran riot to humble the champions who themselves have a Champions Cup quarter-final next weekend at home to Donnacha Ryan’s Racing 92.
The sheer power which Toulon can release when they get on top of a team was all too evident in the opening quarter when they raced into a 21-0 lead against a side who needed a win to keep their slim play-off hopes alive.
But the reigning Top14 champions, despite fielding a strong side, were on the back-foot from the outset with Toulon laying out their intentions early when they went to the corner with a penalty. They opted for a scrum from their next kickable penalty and both occasions left with a converted try. It was as if they were trying out every move ahead of their trip to Limerick. But, of course, that task can wait until next weekend. Their primary concern at a packed Stade Mayol was to secure the bonus point win which keeps them in contention at the business end of the Top 14, with still a bit of work to be done to nail one of the two automatic semi-final spots. They had this one wrapped up when Chris Ashton went over for a swan-dive under the posts at the end of the opening quarter.
Ashton, like Bastareaud, might not be the flavour of the month elsewhere but the fans in port town adore him and the former English international was given rapturous applause when he was replaced in the second-half.
Fekitoa’s double either side of the break saw Toulon build on their 35-0 interval lead with just two more tries but by then Clermont’s humiliation was complete and Toulon were beginning to turn their attentions to Thomond Park.
They will come to Limerick with some pep in their step.
Scorers for Toulon:
Tries: M Fekitoa (2), E Escande, R Taofifenua, C Ashton, J Tuisova, M Gorgodze. Cons : A Belleau (7).
C Ashton (H Bonneval 47); J Tuisova (F Trinh Duc 56), M Fekitoa, M Bastareaud, S Radradra; A Belleau, E Escande (A Mathewson 60); F Fresia (X Chiocci 53), A Etrillard (B Soury 53), M Van Der Merwe (L Chilachouva 53); D Attwood, R Taofifenua; JM Fernandez Lobbe (J Monribot 38), F Isa, R Lakafia (M Gorgodze 63).
S Spedding; D Strettle, D Penaud, W Fofana, S Noa Nakaitaci; L McAlister (C Lopez 68), M Parra (W Hutteau 57); R Chaume (L Uhila 46), Y Beheregaray (J Ulugia 46), D Zirakashvili (S Timani 46); P Van Der Merwe (O Giorgadze 65), A Iturria (I Toeava 46); J Cancoriet, D Chouly, C Gerondeau.
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