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Au revoir and so long Toulon

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That weekend in Toulon had just about everything - everything except tries and a win.

Apart from the obvious downer of being knocked out of the Heineken Cup in the last eight, it was a memorable weekend for The Tig and the travelling Tigers support.

More than 1,500 Tigers supporters made the trip – making up one in ten of the attendance – and rose to the occasion by making themselves seen and heard around the town and the stadium.

From the build-up around town, with supporters arriving from all points of the compass to meet up in the common cause, to the Supporters Village in the Place de Besagne just a matter of metres from the doors to the stadium where we watched the other three quarter-finals, two in the rain on Saturday and one more in the sunshine of Sunday, it was a big weekend for all.

The atmosphere just ramped-up throughout the 48-hour build-up in this south-east corner of France.

The welcome for the home team in the hours leading to kick-off on Sunday is something that will stay with The Tig for ever.

The crowds came from all around, many clambered on to the roofs of adjacent apartment blocks to lead the chorus, waving flags (including at least on Leicester Tigers banner) and calling their support in that characteristic deep French singing voice.

The owners of apartments in that corner of Toulon must be either a) massively committed fans or b) miraculously tolerant of their noisy neighbours on 20 weekends of the year.

It made for a fascinating backdrop, and top marks to the Tigers who stood in its midst as the volume increased with the arrival of the Toulon players who walk through the throng to reach the stadium.

At that point Tigers were gaining entry on the opposite side, away from the manic excitement and aware only of home-town chanting on the outside.

A French Navy band provided the background to the warm-ups, though patriotic renditions of the national anthems while the players continue their warm-up is a new one for The Tig and friends.

Then we had the ‘false’ kick-off when one of Toulon’s favourite sons joins the fray to drop-kick a symbolic start to the game, followed by the Pilou Pilou battle-cry even before the first whistle had gone on the afternoon.

The match itself was close and cagey between two hugely committed and physical teams.

Tigers showed superb composure to gain a nine-point lead and it looked like this could be the big win we’ve been waiting for – something to rival the triumphs in Munster and Paris of legend.

Momentum began to swing in Toulon’s direction in the second half and they showed great control of their own to close it out, though we still could have been celebrating a fantastic fairytale finish with that burst down the right in the closing minutes.

There were no tries but in no way did that affect the enjoyment of the game, and there were locals among us who are still trying to work out how Adam Thompstone kept out that Toulon break for the line in the second half.

Afterwards, the supporters mixed freely around town once more, down but not broken in the Tigers case alongside elated hosts before beginning the long journey home.

Yes defeat was a disappointment because it looked like this could be our time. But the defeat and the nature of the performance has hardened the resolve in this Tiger that it won’t be long before we can watch the team go even further.