Toulon 12-9 Bath: Heartbreak for Mike Ford’s men as they are edged out in France
George Ford kicked Bath ahead on three occasions at the Stade Felix Mayol but Toulon’s Eric Escande matched him every time from the tee
Toulon moves into second in Pool 5
Freddie Michalak landed the winning penalty after 75 minutes
Champions’ Cup holders led for just five minutes in the whole game
Frederic Michalak kicked a late winner as no tries were scored in Toulon’s dramatic 12-9 win over Bath at Stade Felix Mayol in their rearranged Champions’ Cup tie.
Bath enjoyed a confident start as George Ford notched a penalty on two minutes, before Eric Escande hit back with a three-pointer of his own.
Ford then kicked a drop goal just before the half hour mark but Escande matched him once more, kicking a second penalty just before half time to make it 6-6 at the break.
But Ford was on target again within seconds of the restart, the mercurial fly half slamming over another drop goal to make it 9-6.
However, that was as good as it got for the travelling contingent as Escande struck on 45 minutes to level the scores, before replacement full back Frederic Michalak kicked the winning goal on 75 minutes to send Toulon above Bath into second in Pool 5.
Bath headed to France out of sorts in the Premiership and were looking to reignite their European campaign, but the result will come as another significant body blow to Mike Ford’s men as they look to rescue a floundering 2015/16 season.
While Bath had won just two of their last six games and were still reeling from their shock 19-14 defeat at Newcastle last weekend, their hosts were in fine fettle having won five of their last six games in all competitions.
But Bath showed no signs of struggle in the opening exchanges as George Ford, restored to the starting line-up, helped himself to three early points after Toulon had conceded the first penalty of the game.
In a sun-drenched corner of the French south coast, Bath looked comfortable and defended manfully throughout an impressive first quarter, before successive penalties handed Toulon some much-needed field position and Escande took full advantage to level the scores.
Though tryscoring opportunities were in short supply, the midfield quality on show from both sides was enough to warm up any crowd, but it was the visiting fans who were left cheering next as Ford fired over a cleanly-struck drop goal to swing the scoreboard in Bath’s favour once more.
That came on 27 minutes, but Toulon were quickly handed a chance to equalise, though Escande went wide with his attempted penalty kick for goal.
But the 23-year-old former Montpellier man atoned for his earlier miss-kick within minutes as he struck after Bath were penalised at a line out.
The scores were level, 6-6 at the interval, but Bath hit the front once more shortly after the restart as Ford found space following a slick pass from halfback partner Chris Cook.
However, that was the last time the Premiership strugglers would lead as, for the third time in the game, Escande struck back to level the scores, this time to make it nine-all after 45 minutes.
An attritional period followed with defence and discipline coming out on top.
Led by inspirational Number 8 Leroy Houston, Bath continued to hold their star-studded hosts at bay, but they were finally breached late on as Michalak notched the decisive penalty on 75 minutes – the first time they had led in the game.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Bath: Leroy Houston
While George Ford stole the headlines with all of Bath’s points, the former Bordeaux man was at his hard-working best as he helped keep one of Europe’s most talented side’s tryless.
Toulon: 15 James O’Connor, 14 Josua Tuisova, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Eric Escande, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe, 6 Juan Smith, 5 Konstantine Mikautadze, 4 Jocelino Suta, 3 Levan Chilachava, 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Florian Fresia
Replacements: 16 Anthony Etrillard, 17 Xavier Chiocci, 18 Matt Stevens, 19 Steffon Armitage, 20 Frédéric Michalak, 21 Maxime Mermoz, 22 Sébastien Tillous-Borde, 23 Thibault Lassale
Bath: 15 Anthony Watson, 14 Semesa Rokoduguni, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Kyle Eastmond, 11 Matt Banahan, 10 George Ford, 9 Chris Cook, 8 Leroy Houston, 7 Francois Louw, 6 Matt Garvey, 5 Dominic Day, 4 Stuart Hooper (c), 3 David Wilson, 2 Rob Webber, 1 Nick Auterac
Replacements: 16 Ross Batty, 17 Max Lahiff, 18 Henry Thomas, 19 Charlie Ewels, 20 David Denton, 21 Jonathan Evans 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Tom Homer
Date: Sunday, January 10
Venue: Stade Felix Mayol
Kick-off: 16:15 local (15:15 GMT)
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Sean Gallagher (Ireland), Mark Connolly (Ireland)
TMO: Alan Rogan (Ireland)