Newcastle Falcons ended their Heineken Champions Cup campaign with a losing bonus point and no shortage of drama in an end-to-end clash at Kingston Park Stadium on Friday.
Despite nothing resting on the game in terms of quarter-final qualification both teams did their best to warm up the crowd on a cold North East night with some open, expansive rugby, playing with ambition and an attacking outlook from the outset.
Newcastle emerged fired-up right from the off, stealing a Toulon line-out near their own try-line and advancing upfield in a passage which ended with Josh Matavesi scoring between the posts, the centre latching onto a searing line-break from Tom Arscott to dot down.
Toby Flood added the extras, but Toulon drew level within two minutes when Daniel Ikpefan scored down the left – referee Dan Jones refusing to involve the TMO despite an apparently obvious midfield obstruction in the build-up.
Louis Carbonel added the conversion, the freezing cold conditions making handling difficult as both sides knocked on in the offload and contact areas despite their commendable intentions of keeping the ball alive.
It was Newcastle making most of the attacking running, Nemani Nagusa earning the hard yards, and it was from one such carry by the Fijian No 8 that the home side nudged themselves back ahead, Toulon infringing at the subsequent close-range ruck and allowing Flood to chip over the simple penalty.
The visitors got themselves into the lead on the half-hour with a well-taken try by Filipo Nakosi, the Fijian wing latching onto a Carbonel offload to race 50 metres to the left corner, Carbonel adding the touchline conversion.
Full-back Mathieu Smaili had a try chalked off by the TMO as some heroic Falcons defence forced him to knock on in the act of scoring in the right corner, but his side took a 17-10 lead into the changing rooms thanks to Carbonel’s straightforward penalty on 37 minutes.
The fly-half grabbed the first points of the second half with another penalty from dead centre, this time 30 metres out, Newcastle making plenty of the attacking running with carries from Goneva and Nagusa.
The search for a second Falcons try saw Matavesi grubbering to the left corner where Toulon scrambled to safety, the resulting five-metre scrum promising much but failing to deliver as the ball was knocked on in back play from a solid set-piece platform.
Then came the two-try burst which threatened to turn the game on its head, a period of red-zone pressure and a succession of penalties eventually seeing Nagusa scoring against the base of the post from a close-range pick and go.
Flood converted, and did so again only a minute later when Matavesi’s line-break down the left and inside pass fed Michael Young to take a four-point lead.
That was wiped out two minutes later when Toulon replacement hooker Bastien Soury scored a converted try down the right, the visitors running down the clock to walk away with the victory.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Tom Arscott, 14 Vereniki Goneva (Zach Kibirige, 64), 13 Chris Harris, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Toby Flood (captain), 9 Sonatane Takulua (Michael Young, 65); 1 Adam Brocklebank (Sami Mavinga, 48), 2 George McGuigan, 3 Trevor Davison, 4 Will Witty (Tevita Cavubati, 53), 5 Glen Young, 6 Ryan Burrows (Callum Chick, 57), 7 Gary Graham, 8 Nemani Nagusa.
Falcons scorers - Tries: Josh Matavesi, Nemani Nagusa, Michael Young. Conversions: Toby Flood 3. Penalties: Toby Flood.
RC Toulon: 15 Mathieu Smaili, 14 Daniel Ikpefan (Mathieu Bastareaud, 53), 13 Josua Tuisova, 12 Julian Savea, 11 Filipo Nakosi, 10 Louis Carbonel (Anthony Belleau, 57), 9 Yoann Cottin (Rhys Webb, 57); 1 Bruce Devaux (Jean Baptiste Gros, 48), 2 Anthony Etrillard (Bastien Soury, 56), 3 Marcel van der Merwe (Mathieu Loudet, 68), 4 Mamuka Gorgodze (Juandré Kruger, 62), 5 Romain Taofifenua (captain, Corentin Vernet, 48), 6 Jean Monribot, 7 Stephane Onambele Mbarga, 8 Liam Messam.
Toulon scorers - Tries: Daniel Ikpefan, Filipo Nakosi, Bastien Soury. Conversions: Louis Carbonel 2, Anthony Belleau. Penalties: Louis Carbonel 2.
Referee: Dan Jones (Wales). Attendance: 6,694.