Saracens begin Champions Cup title defence with victory in Toulon
Saracens sent out a real statement of intent as they kicked off the defence of their European Champions Cup crown by beating French giants Toulon 31-23 at Stade Mayol.
The home side had never lost a home game in this competition but they found themselves 28-9 down early in the second half of this Pool Three opener.
Sean Maitland, Richard Wigglesworth and Chris Wyles all scored tries, with Owen Farrell kicking 13 points on his first appearance of the season for Saracens.
But three-time winners Toulon came roaring back through tries from Levan Chilachava and Bryan Habana plus Leigh Halfpenny's boot.
But Sarries held on with a late Farrell penalty sealing a famous win and laying down a marker to any side with ideas of taking their mantle as European champions.
The defending champions made the ideal start with Farrell getting the first points on the board with a fourth-minute penalty after some good work by Jamie George and Wyles.
Toulon quickly responded with their own deadly boot levelling the scores as Halfpenny slotted a penalty attempt of his own from 40 metres.
But it was the visitors who had made the more fluid start and they registered the game's first try in the ninth minute.
Strong carries by Maro Itoje and Jackson Wray got them deep into Toulon territory, and the ball was worked wide for Maitland to beat the cover and score in the corner.
Farrell could not add the extras but the English side were soon celebrating again thanks to a wonderfully worked score.
Billy Vunipola made yards and hooker George broke through a gaping hole and offloaded for Wigglesworth to go under the posts, with Farrell converting for a 15-3 lead after just 15 minutes.
Saracens were soon on the front foot once more with Itoje and lock partner George Kruis rampaging upfield.
A knock-on ended the surge but Toulon had infringed in desperate defence and Farrell punished the ill-discipline to further extend the away side's lead.
Toulon did at least trim the gap through Halfpenny's second penalty after Itoje was penalised for a high tackle.
But Saracens rammed home their ascendency with a third try before the break. Mako Vunipola's cute offload allowed Farrell and Marcelo Bosch to make yards, with Wyles finishing the flowing attack on the left and Farrell converting.
Toulon were first on the board after the break with a Halfpenny penalty but Farrell replied in kind after Ma'a Nonu was sin-binned for a spiteful tip-tackle on Brad Barritt.
The numbers were evened up as Toulon battered away at the Saracens line, with Itoje paying the price and seeing yellow for a string of offences in desperate defence.
The second row trotted off and Toulon immediately struck as Chilachava burrowed over from close range and Halfpenny converted.
The score sparked the French side into life and a second try soon came their way as Nonu sent Habana over.
Halfpenny added the extras to move the hosts within five points, and the lead became increasingly precarious when Saracens lost Schalk Burger to the bin with eight minutes remaining for slowing down ruck ball.
But Farrell's penalty put the result beyond doubt and denied Toulon a losing bonus point.