Gloucester marvel at skills of superheroes in Toulon
Gloucester Rugby 17
ONCE upon a time Toulon lived and breathed only to build the biggest, brashest and most fearsome ships in Europe.
From Cardinal Richelieu to Napoleon, French megalomaniacs galore exploited the Mediterranean metropolis in a bid to outdo the British in the naval race.
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Now the fairytales and empire building revolve around amassing an arsenal of an entirely different nature.
The lust for power holds no less zeal, but these days Toulon's little general is a man called Mourad Boudjellal – and he loves his rugby.
He loves it so much in fact that he spends his millions on gathering the globe's superstars for his hometown team.
Toulon's titans are the closest real-life version of the superheroes that litter the comic books cementing Boudjellal's fortune.
The Red and Blacks' Avengers Assemble has been all about restoring the glory days of the 1930s, when Toulon ruled French rugby's roost.
This year's European champions could be forgiven for lording their continental crown.
But Boudjellal and Co are still smarting from defeat in the Top 14 league final.
No wonder then that the muscle flexing was fast, deadly and intoxicating as the sun dipped below the Stade Mayol horizon on Friday night.
Toulon's fanatical support sing of a mythic monster who descended from Mont Faron, the peak that shadows the port city, screaming 'pilou, pilou' during a rampage.
There is nothing make believe about Jonny Wilkinson and Matt Giteau stalking the short side, switching in a flash, offloading out of the back door and launching field-length scores of breakneck speed and stunning quality.
It's a world-class Monsters Inc, and Gloucester felt the full force.
Wilkinson was a menace, from the first second. Giteau was at once thunderous and incisive.
It is an irresistible and beguiling combination – Gloucester were left spellbound.
Virgile Bruni romped home after just two minutes, Delon Armitage flying down the left flank to set the flanker free.
Maxime Mermoz followed Bruni over the whitewash five minutes later in an ominous opening.
But then Gloucester launched a penalty lineout drive that Toulon struggled to contain, and new recruit Tavis Knoyle nipped home on the blindside.
Josua Tuisova restored Toulon's ascendancy with try number three – but still Gloucester refused to kneel.
Full-back Rob Cook immediately hit his strong form of last season, tidily stemming the Toulon tide where possible.
The 28-year-old also found his counter-attacking groove too, and used that nous to full effect to cut blind and loop a wide pass out to the lurking Henry Trinder, who raced in for Gloucester's second try.
Again, Toulon responded in kind.
Tuisova hit a blistering line off the left wing to scythe through outside Wilkinson, leaving Tim Molenaar chasing fast-disappearing heels.
The 19-year-old Fijian popped up to Delon Armitage, and the former England full-back simply flopped over the line.
New recruit Tuisova looks a serious prospect, a raw talent that boss Bernard Laporte labelled a 'revelation'.
Not content with luring Springbok superstar Bryan Habana, Toulon had to unearth an uncut diamond too.
Toulon were itching to end the argument before half-time – Gloucester refused to oblige.
Knoyle nearly set Cook home from a clever tap penalty, but the scrum-capped 15 could not retain his grubber across the tryline.
Gloucester's trainee tighthead prop Yann Thomas then showed the strongest signs yet he can become a first-class number three.
The Kingsholm scrum shredded Toulon five metres from the home line, earning a fully-deserved penalty.
Boss Nigel Davies had expected a penalty try, but to no avail.
Toulon tempers spilled into a few flailing fists, so Gloucester opted for another scrum.
There was to be no repeat though, as Toulon earned a penalty of their own and cleared the danger.
Captain on the night and the clear front-runner for the full-time job in the new campaign, Tom Savage was sin-binned just past the hour.
Gloucester held firm a man light, only for Toulon to strike after Savage's return.
Steffon Armitage claimed Toulon's fifth score, capping a lineout drive Gloucester could not contain.
Gloucester dominated the lineout though, thanks to new signing James Hudson.
And they nearly added to their try tally after a catch-and-drive of their own.
Danie Rossouw crossed for Toulon's final score as the game broke up with replacements regularly joining the fray.
Debutant Johnny Bentley sliced a fine line off Jonny May in midfield to launch a strong Gloucester counter next – and then teed up a second try for Trinder.
The ex-Cornish Pirate got back in on the move with a clever crossfield chip that Trinder pilfered from two covering defenders, to romp home.
Toulon were desperate for the last word, but Gloucester somehow held them at bay.
The Cherry and Whites forced a turnover in their own 22, Trinder booted downfield and set chase.
The ball beat everyone into touch, signalling full-time.
In parts a battering, but Gloucester never lost their grit.
Toppling Europe's moneyed superheroes might be out of Gloucester's reach right now.
At least now they know exactly what that would take.
SCORERS, TOULON: Tries: Bruni (2), Mermoz (7), Tuisova (14), D Armitage (25), S Armitage (52), De Rossouw (61). Cons: Wilkinson 6 (2, 7, 14, 25, 52, 61).
GLOUCESTER: Tries: Knoyle (9), Trinder 2 (21, 73). Cons: Burns (21).
TOULON: D Armitage, D Smith, M Mermoz (M Vincent, 62), M Giteau, J Tuisova, J Wilkinson (T Belan, 62), S Tillous-Borde (M Claassens, 53), A Sheridan (X Chiocci, 53), B Noribot (S Bruno, 53), C Hayman (M Castrogiovanni, 53), K Mikautadze, J Suta (D Rossouw, 53), V Bruni (J Van Niekirk, 53), S Armitage, C Masoe (G Pierrick, 53). Unused: L Chilachava, F Fresia.
GLOUCESTER: R Cook, S Monahan (M Tindall, 19), H Trinder, T Molenaar, J May, F Burns (J Bentley, 62), T Knoyle (R Boughton, 74), N Wood (D Murphy, 44 [T Heard, 74]), D Dawidiuk (D George, 56), Y Thomas (S Knight, 41), T Savage (capt), J Hudson, S Kalamafoni (W James, 41), M Kvesic, B Morgan (A Hazell, 55).
REFEREE: Luiz Alexandre (Languedoc).