Toulon 24-20 Bath: Anthony Belleau magic at the last sees off Bath
By Michael Cantillon
Last Updated: 10/12/17 7:28am
A superb individual score from 21-year-old fly-half Anthony Belleau with just four minutes remaining saw Toulon record a dramatic 24-20 Champions Cup Pool 5 victory over Bath at the Stade Mayol.
Bath went in at half-time 13-7 ahead after an Anthony Watson try and two Rhys Priestland penalties outscored a converted Ma'a Nonu effort.
Chris Cook was sin-binned at the start of the second half for slapping the ball down and a try from Alby Mathewson gave Toulon the lead and ascendancy.
A comical Jonathan Joseph score with 20 minutes left saw Bath regain the lead, but a Francois Trinh-Duc penalty and moment of magic from Belleau saw them record victory in a stunning game of rugby.
Bath had the first opportunity to go in front after just two minutes, winning a penalty at the scrum, but Priestland's effort from distance was hooked wide.
Though Toulon had the majority of first-half possession, Bath continued to threaten with promising breaks from Taulupe Faletau and Matt Banahan, before eventually edging in front after 12 minutes.
With Toulon on the front foot, fly-half Francois Trinh-Duc dropped Florian Fresia's enterprising offload at one end before Semi Radradra was penalised down the other for standing up after the tackle, allowing Priestland to slot over the simple three points from close range.
Three minutes later and Bath struck for the opening try of the game through Watson, after superb build-up play from winger Aled Brew.
After receiving a long pass from Joseph on halfway, Brew brushed off the attentions of powerful Toulon wing Josua Tuisova before taking the tackle from Ashton and offloading for Watson to score in a super piece of attacking play.
Toulon turned down a kickable penalty on 19 minutes to kick to the corner and it proved the wrong decision as Bath's forwards did brilliantly to force the turnover from the maul.
A little over five minutes later and the home side went to the corner again after a high tackle from Banahan on Radradra, but once more the Bath defence held out as prop Max Lahiff forced a knock on under the posts.
On 34 minutes Toulon finally crossed the whitewash through Nonu in a sweeping attack full of raw power and skill.
Radradra had too much pace for Banahan and too much power for Watson and when the ball was consequently shipped along the backline, Mathieu Bastareaud showed magnificent hands to leave Nonu with easiest of run ins to close the score to 10-7.
In the last minute of the half, Bath won a superb scrum penalty, however, after a powerful drive and ended the first period on a high as Priestland slotted another three points to take the Premiership side into the sheds 13-7 ahead.
Toulon started the second period in the ascendancy, forcing a number of consecutive Bath penalties before Chris Cook was sent to the sin-bin for slapping the ball out of Duane Vermeulen hands a metre from the tryline.
Bastareaud and co called for a scrum from the penalty and scrum-half Mathewson sniped over for a try with his opposite number still in the bin.
Already devoid of Francois Louw and Sam Underhill for this game, Bath lost Faletau to injury directly before Toulon's second score as all the momentum of the match seemed to turn away from them.
With 20 minutes left Bath turned the tables through a Joesph try after a massive error from Chris Ashton.
After Watson intelligently kicked to touch five metres from the Toulon tryline, Tuisova inexplicably opted to take the lineout quickly via a one-handed pass to Ashton, who then proceeded to slice his clearing kick high up into the air.
As he attempted to rectify his error, the former England man slipped and the ball bounced perfectly in the in-goal area for Joseph to gather and score the simplest try of his career.
Trinh-Duc reduced the deficit to three points via a penalty on the 22 following a high tackle with 10 minutes remaining, before Facundo Isa led a counter-attack from which Ashton should have regained the lead for Toulon.
Having picked and dived from five metres out, Ashton was short as he tried to place the ball but the TMO ruled the possibility of a double-movement inconclusive, handing Toulon a five-metre attacking scrum.
From that attack, Toulon pounded at the Bath line before tighthead Henry Thomas turned the ball over on top of his own tryline.
The respite was brief though, as Priestland failed to find touch with his clearing kick and replacement fly-half Belleau showed astounding composure to kick ahead and dive over with just four minutes remaining. He also converted, crucially, for a four-point lead.
With less than two minutes remaining Bath won a penalty on the Toulon 10 metre line, but Priestland missed touch and kicked the ball dead, handing the hosts the scrum.
From the set-piece the visitors won a penalty against the head, handing Bath one last chance, but Vermeulen jackled to win the breakdown turnover under his own sticks in a magnificent climax.