Leicester Tigers’ campaign in the European Challenge Cup ended in the semi-finals with a 34-19 defeat against RC Toulon on Saturday evening.
Kicking-off at 9.00pm local time at the Stade Felix Mayol, on a cool and blustery evening on the French south coast, Tigers took an immediate lead with a George Ford penalty, but then conceded two tries as Toulon led 20-6 after half an hour.
A response before half-time was vital and it came from Nemani Nadolo, scoring his first try for the club as Tigers trailed 20-11.
Toulon, who had reached the knockout stages as top seeds and went into the semi-final as the only unbeaten team in the tournament, claimed two more scores in the second period.
But Tigers had their own high points with Harry Potter scoring on his European debut and Ellis Genge being denied a fine late try by TMO replays.
So it is Toulon who go into the final, against Bristol Bears who had beaten Bordeaux-Bègles in the last four on Friday evening.
Nadolo, making a first return to France since his switch to Tigers from Montpellier, was among four members of the Tigers backline making a European debut for the club – alongside Kini Murimurivalu, Matt Scott and Harry Potter – while Hanro Liebenberg also had his first outing in the tournament.
After Toulon kicked off into the wind, Tigers put points on the board with just three minutes gone, Ford kicking from 40 metres after Ellis Genge’s carry on halfway led to the infringement.
Murimurivalu showed his strength at full-back as he fielded an awkward bouncing ball on the touchline and still managed to safely recycle for Ford to clear.
But when Toulon won turnover ball on halfway, they released Bryce Heem who ran clear to score on the left and the conversion from Louis Carbonel made it 7-3.
Tigers won scrum ball from the restart and gave Nadolo the chance to carry in midfield, but then lost ball out wide 20 metres out.
Nadolo was then unlucky as he read a pass out wide in the Toulon backline to get to the ball first but couldn’t keep hold as he stretched to reel it in.
Fellow Fiji international Murimurivalu showed great anticipation again as Carbonel chipped ball dangerously down the Toulon right and he arrived first just metres in front of his own tryline.
Tigers, though, failed to exit fully and were penalised in the tackle zone, allowing Carbonel to kick and make it 10-3 on 20 minutes.
Genge provided momentum with a strong leg drive in possession in the Toulon half and Jaco Taute carried out wide before ball was lost and, although Matt Scott cleared up in defence, another turnover proved costly as the hosts swiftly moved play to the left and Gabin Villière beat the defence to score. Carbonel added his second conversion as the lead reached 17-3 on 24 minutes.
Nadolo and Taute took play on from strong work up front at the restart and, when the whistle went for offside on the edge of their 22, Ford cut three points off the deficit.
Some strong work in defence frustrated the home crowd before Carbonel replied with a penalty to make it 20-6 on 35 minutes.
Neither side had been able to play through phases until Tigers topped double figures in attack, with Scott making inroads and the forwards carrying strongly as Ford prompted from fly-half until eventually there was space for Nadolo to dive in on the left just moments before half-time.
The Tigers made a bright start to the second period too, Hanro Liebenberg and Harry Potter taking play up into the opposition 22 and then a big shove from the forwards earning a scrum penalty 35 metres out. Ford kicked to cut the gap to six points.
Tidy work on the right touchline from Scott and Murimurivalu threatened the Toulon defence, then Genge made one of his charges as they stayed pinned back until a penalty award came Tigers’ way. But the chance was lost as Tigers tried to play into the corner and instead, successive penalties went in Toulon’s favour and play reverted 80 metres upfield.
Openside flanker Raphael Lakafia was held up over the tryline by Nadolo, but play stayed in the corner and, when the whistle blew again, referee Adamson spoke to Tigers skipper Tom Youngs. Next time, though, Tommy Reffell swooped over ball on the floor and was rewarded with a penalty verdict which Ford booted back up to halfway.
Ford was then back in defence as he had to chase ball hacked forward in broken play and also make a tackle on wing Villière as he closed in on the tryline. But the whistle went against Tigers at the breakdown just as they looked to have won ball, and Toulon stayed camped five metres out until finally finding space on the right for Facundo Isa to score their third try. Carbonel added the kick to make it 27-14.
Tigers were quickly back upfield, though, only to be penalised as a scrum hit the floor just 10 metres from the tryline. Then, as play broke at halfway, Tomas Lavanini was sin-binned for a late hit on Carbonel as the game approached its final quarter.
The killer blow came as Toulon attacked in broken field and, with Tigers still working hard but eventually stretched in defence, Villière claimed his second try. The conversion pushed them 34-14 in front.
Potter’s attack down the right was ended by a high tackle and Ford prodded play towards the corner, but Toulon’s lineout blocked out progress despite Harry Wells making the catch.
Another penalty went against the French in defence and, this time, after a promising driving maul approached the tryline, Sergio Parisse was yellow-carded for the collapse.
Still Tigers retained possession, with Scott held up over the tryline, until getting some reward when Potter finished on the right after the forwards had kept ball tight and pushed Toulon back.
Genge then appeared to have scored with a fine finish on the right after more good work from Ford and Potter. But, with Ford preparing for the conversion, the referee brought play back to check replays and his verdict was a forward pass in the build-up.
Nadolo had another chance in the same corner as the clock ticked up to 80 minutes, but after almost reaching the line, ball was knocked loose and the referee called a finish to the game.
Thank you for your support from your sofas this evening, as Tigers' European journey comes to an agonising end.
The men in green, white and red are back in action this Wednesday (September 30, 5.30pm) for a Gallagher Premiership match at Bristol Bears, which you can follow right here on Matchday Live.
Until then, goodbye.
FULL TIME | 34-19
Tigers are undone in the south of France as they reach the end of the road in the European Challenge Cup.
Harry Wells breaks through and makes a superb offload to Ford, but it ultimately comes to nothing, and that's the game.
GIGENA FOR GENGE
Facundo Gigena gets on for the final 60 seconds of this match.
Agonising stuff. Ellis Genge breaks through on the right and beats one man and then another on his way over the whitewash.
But replays show Ford's pass in the build-up crept forward - not by much - and the score is ruled out. Bugger.
WALLACE LOCKS ON
Toulon come away from their scrum with the ball, but they don't have it for long - as Luke Wallace latches on and brings the ball back for his side.
Thom Smith packs down in the second row as he replaces Calum Green.
The conversion attempt, though, goes awry and Tigers trail by 34 points to 19.
POTTER SCORES | 34-19
Leatigaga wins the hard yards up to the try line, but it's Harry Potter who twists himself over the whitewash for the score.
Zack Henry's dancing feet combined with Matt Scott's bulk push Tigers up and over the line, but the inside centre is held up on top of a couple of red bodies, so we'll have a five-metre scrum.
14 ON 14
Sergio Parisse is shown a yellow card for collapsing a maul on his own line, and both teams are down to 14 men.
Ben White attempts the quick tap as Tigers draw a penalty, but referee Adamson brings play back and instead Ford goes to the corner.
ORY FOR OLLIVON
Julien Ory takes the place of Charles Ollivon in the home back row.
Harry Potter takes a big hit - possibly high - from the Toulon defence, but he holds on to the ball to put Tigers into a nice position in the right-hand corner.
TWO TIGERS CHANGES
Luke Wallace and Zack Henry are on to the field.
CONVERSION ADDED | 34-14
Carbonel adds two more points with a successful conversion.
FOURTH SCORE | 32-14
Toulon swarm in the Tigers 22, and after winning penalty advantage they put Villiere in for his second score of the night.
CHANGE AT HOOKER
Charlie Clare is on for club captain Tom Youngs.
YELLOW CARD | TOMAS LAVANINI
The penalties are mounting up for Tigers - this time for a late tackle - and it's Argentina international Lavanini who is shown a yellow card.
SCRUM HALF CHANGE
Ben for Ben - White for Youngs - in the Leicester half-backs.
...but it's the men in red who will celebrate that scrum, as Genge is picked out by referee Adamson for hinging on the far side. Tough call.
ON THE LINE
Tigers have great territory for said scrum after a decent restart draws a handling error in the Toulon backfield. Nadolo looks primed and ready to strike from the back...
Bastien Soury and Emerick Setiano are both into the Toulon front row, and they'll be into the action immediately with a scrum.
TWO MORE POINTS | 27-14
Carbonel adds the extras from the tee to put the hosts further ahead.
ISA OVER | 25-14
Tigers defend well at close quarters, but Toulon work the overlap to put Facundo Isa over on the fringe.
Nephi Leatigaga takes the place of Dan Cole at tighthead for Tigers.
There's ruck met with counter-ruck, and neither side look happy with the referee's decision. Basically, Toulon are in the same position they had two minutes ago. Nervy times.
Facundo Isa replaces Raphael Lakafia for Toulon.
Toulon have a throw on Tigers five-metre line after a tehcnical offence at the breakdown.
Unlucky for Ellis Genge, who loses the ball in a typically rambunctious run into the guts of the opposition, and Toulon hack through.
Ford chases back to dot down behind his own tryline, and we'll have a quick break for a tretament to a couple of players ebfore play restarts with a 22 drop-out.
Brian Alainu’uese joins the fray for Toulon.
...but Tommy Reffell is the hero of the moment when he wins a crucial turnover on his own line and Ford can kick clear. And breathe.
Tigers are given a warning for their part in sacking a maul on their five-metre line, and Toulon will go again...
Raphael Lakafia breaks out the back of a Toulon lineout and even beats Nadolo as last man - but the wing makes up for his missed tackle to hold the back-rower up over the line. No score.
...which might go some way to explaining the missed kick to the corner, which gifts possession abck to the hosts on the edge of their 22. Ouch.
The Tigers push is halted after the Toulon penalties start to mount up, and Adamson brings play back for the original offence ... but Ford wanted more. He slaps the ground in frustration.
Lavanini gets a hand to a Takulua box kick to shift momentum in Tigers' favour, and Scott breaks down the right to give the visitors some great ground.
Sebastien Taofifenua is on at loosehead for the hosts in place of Jean-Baptiste Gros.
TIGERS PENALTY | 20-14
Ford's kick is straight and true and closes the margin to six points.
The Tigers pack win the penalty, though, and Ford fancies his chances of some early points in this second period.
DELIBERATE KNOCK ON?
Tom Youngs asks referee Adamson about a possible knock on in the tackle from Toulon ... but he says there's nothing to answer. Scrum down.
Great energy from Tigers at the start of this second half, with Harry Wells leading the charge up to Toulon.
SECOND HALF IS GO!
Here. We. GO! 40 minutes left for Tigers to fight their way into a European final.
HALF TIME | 20-11
Tigers trail at the break in their Challenge Cup semi-final at European heavyweights Toulon.
Ford sends a rifled kick down to Ikpefan, who returns in kind, and the Tigers fly-half calls for the mark as the clock ticks into the red. He kicks to touch and that's the half.
A crucial try from Nadolo, but the touchline kick from Ford isn't quite on target so it'll stay a five-point score.
DEBUT SCORE! | 20-11
Nadolo gets on the end of a nicely-weighted pass and dives over for his first Tigers score. Lovely stuff.
Tigers stitch some phases together through Calum Green and then Harry Wells, and they draw the penalty which scrum-half Youngs taps-and-goes quickly. Up to the five-metre line...
FOUR FROM FOUR | 20-6
Carbonel adds another penalty goal and Toulon lead by 20 points to six.
Toulon pull in their heavy runners to set Leicester alarm bells ringing once more, but as they start to make diminishing returns Carbonel goes for the drop-goal ... and it's short and to the left.
We'll come back for a penalty from the last scrum, and the French fly-half points to the posts.
POTTER STANDS STRONG
Toulon go for the left again with another strike move, but Potter stands his ground and gets his man down. Magic.
PLAY BROUGHT BACK
...but the kick to Toulon is too much and it rolls end-over-end - almost in slow motion - over the dead ball line. Ouch.
Not sure what's coming up quicker - the home front row at scrum-time or the Toulon turf.
But, after a reset, Tigers get the ball out the back and Ford looks for territory.
Heem once again breaks through down the left, but the ball is dislodged in the tackle to give Tigers some respite. Youngs will have the put in at the scrum.
TIGERS POINTS | 17-6
An important penalty from George Ford adds three points to Tigers' tally.
Ben Youngs feeds into the scrum, which Hanro Liebenberg can gather from No8, and then it's big man Nadolo who runs a hardline in midfield to try and break through the red line.
It's not a clean break, but Tigers have a shot at goal...
EXTRAS ADDED | 17-3
Carbonel keeps the scoreboard ticking over with two more points for Toulon.
VILLIERE DIVES IN | 15-3
Matt Scott covers a first thrust from Toulon, but the French side destroy the ruck and get Gabin Villiere over on the left.
TOULON PENALTY | 10-3
...and it's through. Carbonel adds three from the tee to give Toulon a seven-point lead.
POINT TO POSTS
...but the home side will have a chance to extend their lead after winning a shot at goal just a couple of phases later. Carbonel steps up to the tee...
KINI SAVES THE DAY
Almost - almost - brilliant from Carbonel, who folds back down the blindside of the scrum, chips over the head of Tomás Lavanini and looks to be in for a second score, but Murimurivalu gets there in the nick of time to gobble up possession. Phew.
Takulua goes quickly off the back of another competitive shove, and he draws in full-back Daniel Ikpefan at full speed down the middle of the pitch - but he can't find a way through the green, white and red line.
Instead, they attempt the kick pass to the right where Nemani Nadolo lies in wait to disrupt possession and win Tigers another scrum.
Tigers get the ball out to the right where Ford is waiting to draw in Harry Potter, but the home side intercept the final pass and Sonatane Takulua box kicks the ball down field.
A good restart from Tigers sees Tom Youngs face up to France captain Charles Ollivon, and the visitors win a scrum on the edge of Toulon's 22.
CARBONEL CONVERTS | 7-3
Fly-half Carbonel makes it a seven-point score with a successful conversion.
HEEM GALLOPS IN | 5-3
Toulon have the first try of the match as Bryce Heem breaks the tackle and gallops down the touchline.
KINI CLEARS UP
Toulon press up to the Tigers 22 and poke a cheeky chip over the top of the Leicester line, but Kini Murimurivalu is there at the back to gather the bouncing ball and kick clear.
...and the visitors draw the free kick for an early engagement as the pitch starts to cut up already. Ford kicks downfield, but the ball is out on the full and Toulon are back in Tigers territory.
A big, powerful shove from the Tigers pack at our first scrum, and referee Mike Adamson calls for a reset of the Toulon feed. Neat.
TIGERS OPEN THE SCORE| 0-3
George Ford splits the uprights with an early shot at goal to give Tigers a three-point lead. Great start.
Ben Youngs feeds new father Ellis Genge off the back of the first lineout, and the Baby Rhino - make that Daddy Rhino - wins an early shot at goal for Tigers. Nice.
KICK OFF IN TOULON
Louis Carbonel hoists the ball into the air and we're underway in the south of France.
ON TO THE FIELD
Tom Youngs leads his Tigers team on to the Toulon turf.
Almost time for the European Challenge Cup semi-final.
ONE MINUTE TO GO | FINAL TEAM CHECKS
Just a few moments to go until we’re underway at the Stade Félix Mayol, and let me tell you the atmosphere in this Matchday Live commentator's living room is ELECTRIC.
Are you ready, #TigersFamily?
Leicester Tigers: 15 Murimurivalu, 14 Potter, 13 Taute, 12 Scott, 11 Nadolo, 10 Ford, 9 B Youngs; 1 Genge, 2 T Youngs (c), 3 Cole, 4 Lavanini, 5 Green, 6 Wells, 7 Reffell, 8 Liebenberg.
Replacements: 16 Clare, 17 Gigena, 18 Leatigaga, 19 Smith, 20 Wallace, 21 White, 22 Henry, 23 Kelly.
RC Toulon: 15 Ikpefan, 14 Dakuwaqa, 13 Heem, 12 Paia’aua, 11 Villiere, 10 Carbonel, 9 Takulua; 1 Gros, 2 Etrillard, 3 Gigashvili, 4 Rebbadj, 5 R Taofifenua, 6 Ollivon, 7 Lakafia, 8 Parisse.
Replacements: 16 Soury, 17 S Taofifenua, 18 Setiano, 19 Dridi, 20 Alainu’uese, 21 Ory, 22 Meric, 23 Isa.
SUPPORT FROM HOME
Support from your sofa – or wherever you’re following from – and back the boys this evening in what promises to be a brilliant Cup clash by using #TigersAtHome across social media, and we’ll share some of our favourites.
COME ON TIGERS!
TEAM TALK | UNDERDOGS TRAVEL TO FRANCE
All the focus will be on European heavyweights Toulon in this evening’s semi-final, according to Tigers head coach Steve Borthwick.
“Outside of this squad, nobody gives us a chance in this game,” he told LTTV. “But what I see is a squad of young men who are determined to do well.
“These players are committed to Leicester Tigers and they’re determined to make Leicester Tigers successful again.
“We’ve got a great blend of experienced players who have experienced European rugby and those who have recently been playing in France, and we’ve also got some exciting young players who have come through the Leicester Tigers Academy.
“Toulon, as we know, are a famous club with a rich history. They’re a team that has undergone a bit of change, but they’re still full of big name international players and I think everyone is excited about taking on this challenge.
“It’s our next game, so it’s our most important game.”
CONFIRMED TEAM NEWS | TIGERS TRIO RETURN
Leicester Tigers head coach Steve Borthwick has made two changes to the matchday squad for this evening’s Cup tie.
The Tigers starting line-up has one change, with Kini Murimurivalu shifting from the wing to full-back and Harry Potter included on one wing with Nemani Nadolo on the other.
On the bench, Thom Smith replaces Jordan Taufua, who is unavailable after knee surgery this week and Dan Kelly is included as one of the replacement backs.
Ellis Genge, Tom Youngs and Dan Cole form a familiar all-international front row ahead of locks Tomás Lavanini and Calum Green. Hanro Liebenberg packs down at No8 with Harry Wells and Tommy Reffell on the flanks.
George Ford makes his first appearance in three weeks after sitting out Tigers’ last two games, and is paired in the half-backs with Ben Youngs while Jaco Taute returns to the midfield alongside Scotland international Matt Scott.
Zack Henry wears No22 after impressing against Northampton, while Charlie Clare, Facundo Gigena and Nephi Leatigaga offer some heavy-duty front-row cover among the replacements.
See the full match line-ups by clicking here.
EURO PREVIEW | INTO THE FINAL FOUR
Tigers take on European heavyweights Toulon for a place in the European Challenge Cup Final this evening.
Hosts RC Toulon are the only unbeaten team in the tournament, having qualified from the pool stage as top seeds with six wins out of six, and beat the Scarlets in the quarter-finals last weekend at the Stade Félix Mayol.
The French outfit feature in the Challenge Cup semi-finals for a third time, having progressed to the Final on both previous appearances, in 2010 and 2012, before making history with a Heineken Cup treble from 2013 to 2015.
The two teams go into Saturday’s second semi-final knowing a final against Bristol Bears awaits, following their extra-time win over Bordeaux-Bègles in the other half of the draw last night.
See all the important facts and stats in our full match preview here.
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