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Mike Ford has challenged his new breed of RC Toulon charges to show their hunger for more European Rugby Champions Cup success against Sale Sharks.
Only a win will do for the three-time champions of Europe in their bid to reach the quarter-finals. A defeat to the Scarlets in West Wales in Round 4 saw them lose ground on Pool 3 runaway leaders Saracens, who are defending the Champions Cup crown they took from Toulon.
Ford’s men face a Sale side who are yet to register a point in this season’s tournament. However, they did run Toulon close in Round 2, but tries from Charles Ollivon and Leigh Halfpenny earned a 15-5 victory at the AJ Bell stadium.
Toulon will be without Europe’s all-time leading try-scorer Vincent Clerc who suffered more injury woe in the 30-6 defeat to ASM Clermont Auvergne. Clerc snapped his achilles tendon and will be out for four to five months, but they do have Matt Giteau back from a broken ankle.
Giteau was a key man in Toulon's hat-trick of titles in 2013-15, but Ford wants his men to move on from their past glories.
He said: “We have to show that we are hungry. Jonny Wilkinson's Toulon no longer exists. We must draw a line under our glorious past. We are no longer at the top of the tree in Europe. Before, Toulon were the ones being chased driven out, but now we are the hunters.
“We must approach matches with a different mentality. I think that all teams playing against Toulon are no longer afraid. We must not forget that we didn’t win anything last season.”
Will Addison has been added to Sale’s squad in place of Denny Solomona, and he is relishing the chance to experience top class rugby at the Stade Felix Mayol.
He said: “The mindset going over there is the same as every other game – it's a massive opportunity to go out there & play on the biggest stage.
“Playing away to the three times European champions is something you look back on, and cherish so we want to go out there and show the best side of ourselves, and I'm backing ourselves to win, even though it'll be tough.
“We played against Toulon in October, and I thought we were the better team on the night, so if we can do that again for 80 minutes, we wont be far off.”
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Two tries in the final four minutes earned RC Toulon a priceless bonus-point and kept them in the hunt for a Champions Cup quarter-final place.
Their 27-7 triumph means they are now within five points of Pool 3 leaders Saracens and will head to Allianz Park in Round 6 with an outside chance of overtaking the reigning champions. With 15 points, they will need to take something out of the game to stand any chance of reaching the last eight.
A yellow card handed out to Sale Sharks replacement prop Kieran Longbottom in the 76th minute by Irish referee George Clancy for a dangerous tackle proved crucial as it allowed Toulon to score the two tries they needed to clinch the bonus point.
No sooner had Longbottom gone off the field than replacement scrum half Jonathan Pelissie scampered over in the right corner and then Toulon fashioned a bonus point score from deep in their 22 with the final move of the match.
It was started by Josua Tuisova and then finished by him almost in the same spot at which Pelissie scored. The five points took the three-time champions onto 15 points, five behind Saracens, who had been held to a draw by the Scarlets earlier in the day, and give them an outside chance of winning the pool by outscoring Saracens 5-0 on match points and winning the head-to-head equation.
Other than that, they need to win, draw or at least pick up a bonus point to stay in the hunt for a last eight place. For Sale, the sting in the tail meant they cashed to a 16th successive defeat in the tournament and a 10th in a row in all games this season.
Sale were out of the running before the game started having lost all four pool matches before arriving at Stade Felix Mayol. But they played without fear and led for long periods thanks to a brilliant solo try from Sam James in the first half.
It was a huge contrast to their last visit to Toulon, when they conceded nine tries in a record 62 point defeat. Toulon got off to a flying start with Ma’a Nonu’s first Champions Cup try coming in only the second minute.
Leigh Halfpenny couldn’t add the extras and that gave the Sharks the chance to bite back with a thrilling kick and chase try from James. The outside half chipped over the first line of defence on half-way, beat three Toulon players by regathering the wicked bounce and then raced to the posts for a try which acting skipper Will Addison converted.
Addison had the chance to increase the lead with a penalty, but was wide, yet the underdogs were still 8-7 ahead at the break – and good value for their lead! Toulon picked up the pace at the start of the second half and Halfpenny put them ahead with a 43rd minute penalty.
Bryan Habana then increased the lead with a try on the hour and Halfpenny’s conversion made it 15-7. The home fans hoped that would be the catalyst for an avalanche of tries, but instead Sale hit back with a perfect driving line out try from hooker Rob Webber to cut the gap to three points.
Then came the late charge from Toulon to set up a fantastic finish against Saracens in Round 6.
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