Nerveless Wilkinson eliminates Leicester
Jonny Wilkinson edged the battle of the boot as Toulon dumped Leicester out of the Heineken Cup with a 21-15 win.
The former England fly-half slotted six penalties and a drop-goal in a virtually flawless display to out-fire Toby Flood and the Tigers and seal a semi-final berth for the French side.
The two sides had never met in a competitive fixture and two-time champions Leicester made the brighter start at the rapturous Stade Felix Mayol. But Toulon fought back to reach the last four of Europe's premier club competition for the first time. They will now face Saracens at Twickenham in the final weekend of April.
The Tigers demonstrated their early intent with Anthony Allen releasing Tom Croft for a charge down the left. Croft was tackled into touch and a melee broke out between the England flanker and Alexis Palisson as tempers threatened to fray.
Flood fired the Tigers into the lead on 10 minutes, after their pack flexed their muscles at the set-piece. The England fly-half doubled his side's advantage on 14 minutes and he quickly completed his hat-trick as Dan Cole steamrolled Andrew Sheridan.
But Toulon fought their way back as Wilkinson booted their first points after Flood was harshly sent to the sin-bin for a deliberate knock on. The hosts continued to grow in confidence and the 14-man Tigers struggled to cling on. Wilkinson cut the deficit to three points after the Tigers strayed offside and they were dealt a further blow when Croft limped off with a hip injury.
Leicester did themselves no favours in the second half and within four minutes of the restart Wilkinson levelled after Ed Slater took Steffon Armitage out off the ball. Two minutes later he continued his 100 per cent strike-rate to hand Toulon the lead.
Toulon twice crossed the whitewash only for their efforts to be ruled out, while Wilkinson was wide with a drop-goal attempt. First Mathieu Bastareaud was adjudged to have put a foot in touch after bulldozing his way over in the corner. And minutes later the hosts were again denied with George Clancy ruling that Bakkies Botha crossed with a double movement.
Flood hit back but the hosts were irrepressible in attack and Cole gave Clancy no choice but to brandish a yellow card with a deliberate knock-on which was far more cynical than Flood's first-half offence. Wilkinson dissected the posts from the ensuing penalty and moments later he knocked over his sixth shot from the tee to put the French side six points clear.
Flood kept the Tigers in touch, with his fifth penalty, to set up a tense finale. He also put the pressure on the hosts with a superb touch-finder but Toulon surged down field in the closing stages. They threatened on several occasions to grab the game's opening try but eventually settled for a late Wilkinson drop-goal to seal the win.