The ironic chanting of Chris Ashton’s name was eventually drowned out by the sound of the celebrating Toulon fans.
‘We love you Ashton, we do, oh Ashton we love you,’ sang the Bath supporters. The exiled winger’s blooper almost gifted a famous victory to the visitors, but his blushes were spared when team-mate Anthony Belleau sniped over after 77 minutes to save Toulon on Saturday.
So Bath left with a precious bonus point and some things in Toulon remain very much the same. They still boast a powerful pack intent on breaking down their opponents. Bath, however, won the first scrum penalty and set the tone for a courageous performance. Rhys Priestland kicked his side ahead after 12 minutes and it was just reward for the gallant defensive efforts of the young tight five.
Chris Ashton’s blooper almost gifted a famous victory to Bath on Saturday night
Beno Obano, Tom Dunn and Max Lahiff are hardly household names in English rugby but Bath’s tyro front-row forwards punched well above their weight against the experienced pack. The intensity of their defence forced world heavyweights such as Ma’a Nonu and Duane Vermeulen into errors.
What Toulon would give to have Jonny Wilkinson back on the Cote D’Azur. None of their No 10’s have lived up to his billing and the kicking of fly-half Francois Trinh-Duc was erratic as Toulon missed a playmaker who can put opponents to the sword.
The absence of Bath’s star performer Semesa Rokoduguni was eased by replacement Aled Brew, who held off Josh Tuisova and Ashton to create space for the opening try.
Ashton almost made amends for his mistakes with a try but fell millimetres short of the line
Jonathan Joseph, who looked rejuvenated, threw a long miss- pass and fellow England international Anthony Watson was on hand to score.
Joseph was afforded more time and space than he is given in an England jersey; with Ben Tapuai running hard and straight in the No 12 jersey.
Bath’s only regret from the opening quarter was not capitalising on other chances, because Toulon’s power eventually told. Blue and white defenders were sucked in by the heavy artillery and — ignoring cries of crossing — Mathieu Bastareaud’s flick on put Nonu in acres of space.
‘The TMO is there so why would you not use it?’ blasted Bath coach Todd Blackadder. ‘I felt the penalty count was inconsistent.
‘If you analysed every breakdown, I felt there were times we were over the ball for no reward and sometimes they got rewarded for doing exactly the same thing.’
Anthony Belleau’s late try spared the blushes of Ashton in Champions Cup clash
Bath were undeterred, even without the muscle of injured flankers Sam Underhill and Francois Louw. Priestland kicked another penalty and they went into half time 13-7 ahead. But within two minutes, Bath’s cause was dealt a double blow.
Toby Faletau departed with a knee injury — ’ I hope it’s not the same knee as he injured last season, but it doesn’t look good for next week,’ said Blackadder — and Chris Cook was sin-binned for knocking the ball down. Rival No 9 Alby Mathewson scored from the ensuing scrum.
Ashton’s moment for the outtakes reel arrived after 62 minutes. He has won French hearts and minds by scoring 13 tries in 12 games since his summer move from Saracens, but here he made the headlines for the wrong reasons.
He was closely marked throughout the game — often running off Nonu’s shoulder — and was unable to add to his try tally. Instead, following a quick lineout by Josua Tuisova, he tried to kick the ball clear from deep in his in-goal area, but fell over and sliced the ball 25 metres to the right —straight into Joseph’s try-scoring path.
Toulon head coach Fabien Galthie said: ‘These things do not happen in training but Chris is not a great kicker and I was surprised it was thrown to him.’
Trinh-Duc narrowed the deficit and then a Kahn Fotuali’i pass was intercepted by Facundo Isa, with Ashton almost making instant amends but falling millimetres short of a try.
Toulon launched waves of attack via their pack and Belleau kicked through for a fine try as Blackadder’s side fought until the bitter end but were harshly penalised by the referee. For Ashton, however, the final whistle brought relief.