Toulon was able to hold off a brave Scarlets side in a second half comeback to secure a first round win at home on Sunday when they beat them 21-20
The home side made a bright start and dominated the early exchanges but, to their credit, the Welsh region came back strongly and the result was in the balance until the end.
Both sides eventually scored two tries apiece and although the Scarlets were the dominant side in the second half, they had to settle for a losing bonus-point.
Toulon made a terrific start and opened the scoring as early as the sixth minute when Eric Escane intercepted a pass from Aled Davies just inside Scarlets’ half and raced away before crossing for a deserved try.
Anthony Belleau slotted the conversion and extended les Toulonnais’ lead a minute later when he landed a penalty after several Scarlets players went off their feet at a ruck.
The visitors had a chance to reduce the deficit in the 11th minute when Swan Rebbadj played the ball from an offside position but Leigh Halfpenny’s shot at goal was off target.
That miss proved costly as Toulon were soon on the front-foot again and were rewarded in the 13th minute when Guilhem Guirado scored their second try after gathering a pass from Josua Tuisova, who set up the try with a bullocking run – in which he flattened Halfpenny – in the build-up.
Ten minutes later, the Scarlets were penalised again and Belleau added his second penlty which gave his side a comfortable 18-0 lead. Halfpenny eventually opened Scarlets’ account courtesy of a 33rd minute penalty after Ma’a Nonu infringed at a breakdown.
Three minutes later, the complexion of the game changed when Hugo Bonneval was sent to the sin bin for taking Aled Davies out illegaly at a ruck deep inside Toulon’s half.
The visitors did not benefit from their numerical advantage immediately, but they got the second half off to a superb start when Johnny McNicholl crossed for their first try.
This, after Rhys Patchell launched a teasing cross-field kick which Chris Ashton failed to deal with behind his try-line and the bounce of the ball favoured McNicholl who went over for the five-pointer.
That score swung the momentum in the Scarlets’ favour and they had the bulk of the possession and enjoyed territorial advantage for the next 10 minutes.
And in the 50th minute, Halfpenny gathered a well-timed pass from Scott Williams before gliding through a gap and diving over for his side’s second try.
Halfpenny dusted himself off and added the extras which meant the match was evenly poised with Touon leading 18-17. And on the hour-mark, the former Toulon stalwart slotted his second penalty – after another Rebbadj infringement – which gave his side the lead for the first time.
They surrendered their lead three minutes later, however, when Francois Trinh-Duc kicked a penalty after Tadhg Beirne was blown up for entering a ruck illegally.
That set up a tense finish but although Toulon spent most of the closing stages camped inside the visitors’ 22 – and after the Scarlets were reduced to 14 men shortly before the end when Beirne was sent to the sin bin for a cynical foul on defence – they could not extend their lead.
Tries: Escande, Guirado
Pens: Belleau 2, Trinh-Duc
Yellow Card: Bonneval
Tries: McNicholl, Halfpenny
Cons: Halfpenny 2
Pens: Halfpenny 2
Yellow Card: Beirne