Glasgow Warriors 19-43 Toulon
Glasgow Warriors were unable to cap a memorable 2022/23 campaign with silverware this evening, as Franco Smith’s squad were defeated 43-19 by Toulon in the EPCR Challenge Cup final.
Kyle Steyn’s brace and Sebastian Cancelliere’s try were ultimately in vain for the Warriors, as Toulon claimed their first Challenge Cup trophy at the fifth time of asking.
With the noise inside the Aviva Stadium at full-pitch, it was Toulon who would make the brightest possible start. A moment of solo skill from Baptiste Serin would see the scrum-half grubber kick in behind the Glasgow defence and regather, the officials awarding the try despite the best efforts of Ollie Smith. Serin himself would convert, giving his side a 7-0 lead after six minutes.
Serin would spurn the chance to add to the lead by pulling a penalty wide on 10 minutes, but the French side’s near-monopoly on possession and territory inside the opening quarter would pay dividends. A second try would arrive on 18 minutes, with Sergio Parisse the man to make the crucial final carry to touch down next to the posts. Serin’s conversion made it the full complement of points for the French squad, to the delight of their travelling support.
Turnover ball would be the catalyst for Toulon’s third try of the night, which would arrive just five minutes later. Waisea Nayacalevu’s line break saw the Fijian centre burst to within five metres of the Glasgow line, before Serin himself would pick up and dart over from close range. The scrum-half converted his own score for good measure, giving his side a 21-0 lead.
Knowing the next score needed to be theirs, the Warriors set about throwing everything at those in black, enjoying a first sustained spell of possession in the final 10 minutes of the half. The Toulon defence would bend under siege from close-range mauls and the carrying of Jack Dempsey, Zander Fagerson and company, yet it would not break. Ihaia West’s scramble defence with the clock in the red would deny Sebastian Cancelliere, meaning the scoreline remained unchanged as the half-time whistle sounded.
Still came the Warriors, the opening salvo of the second half being played exclusively inside the Toulon 22. Only a despairing cover tackle from Jiuta Wainiqolo would stop Cancelliere, as the men in blue went ever closer.
Instead, against the run of play, it would be Toulon who registered the first points of the half. Benoit Paillaugue – on at half time for the injured Serin – made no mistake from the tee after a high tackle from the Warriors, making it 24-0 after 50 minutes of play.
Finally, though, the French dam would break. Superb hands from Rory Darge and Ali Price, each making an impact off the bench, saw Kyle Steyn released out wide, the captain beating the challenge of Wainiqolo and Cheslin Kolbe to dive over. George Horne converted, making it 24-7 with 25 minutes to play.
Toulon’s response was immediate. Swift hands saw the ball shipped from touchline to touchline, with Wainiqolo taking the scoring pass to step inside the covering defence and touch down. The conversion was sent wide, leaving the scoreline at 29-7 to the French side after 59 minutes.
The men in black were now back inside Glasgow territory, applying phase after phase of pressure upon the Warriors defence. Eventually, that pressure told, Nayacalevu finding a gap between two tacklers to reach out and ground the ball for his side’s sixth try. Paillaugue converted, taking the scoreline to 36-7 in favour of Toulon.
This time, though, it would be the Warriors who would respond immediately. An overthrown lineout from Toulon allowed Dempsey to barge his way to within five metres, before quick handling from Tuipulotu and Huw Jones sent Cancelliere over out wide for the try. Horne’s conversion would strike the upright, as the clock ticked into the final 10 minutes.
The Warrior Nation were urging the men in blue and red forward at every opportunity, with the Scotstoun faithful desperate to see their team finish on a high. Their volume would be raised yet further with eight minutes to play, as skipper Steyn finished off a flowing team move to cross for his second of the night. Horne added the extras, narrowing the gap to 36-19.
Yet the final word would belong to Toulon. With the clock ticking down, one final foray into Glasgow territory would result in the match’s closing try. West was the man to cap off the final, riding the tackle of two Warriors defenders to ground the ball in front of the Toulon faithful for a score which – converted by Paillaugue – would send the French side’s supporters into rapture.
Not to be for the Warriors, then – but with the blue flags flying long into the night, the Warrior Nation’s pride at their team remains evident no matter which stadium they take over.