Leinster endured a disappointing second half at Stade Félix Mayol, leaking 14 points without reply as title holders Toulon secured their first win in this season’s European Champions Cup…
Although they produced a dogged performance in defence, Leo Cullen's men were made to pay for poor discipline as Cian Healy was yellow carded in the 25th minute and Devin Toner and Tom Denton were both sin-binned during the closing 40 minutes.
Toulon scrum half Eric Escande mopped up with four successful penalty goals, and the visitors also leaked two maul tries to omnipresent openside Steffon Armitage whose second effort came in the dying seconds.
Leinster, who have now lost their opening three pool games, were well in the hunt at half-time, heading in with just a 10-9 deficit to overcome. Jonathan Sexton kicked three penalties, including a brace inside the opening five minutes, with Escande converting Armitage's 10th-minute score and a subsequent penalty.
But a series of place-kicks from Escande after 49, 53 and 66 minutes had Toulon on course for victory and with Leinster continuing to cough up penalties and turnovers at the breakdown, Armitage added the final gloss from a close-in lineout.
Although Sexton overcooked an early touchfinder, he punished Matt Stevens for a scrum infringement with a tremendous penalty goal from halfway. He then popped up on the right wing attack before slamming over a second penalty, struck crisply from the 10-metre line.
However, a scrum penalty allowed Toulon to press from a five-metre lineout, and the brutish red-shirted pack powered over from a cleverly-angled maul with flanker Armitage touching down. Escande’s conversion took the hosts ahead.
Mike McCarthy was pinged for offside as Leinster defended on their 22-metre line, the resulting shot off the tee from Escande making it 10-6, but Sexton, involved in a neat wraparound with the industrious Luke Fitzgerald, clawed back three points from close range in the 23rd minute.
Just two minutes later, Leinster lost Healy to the sin-bin for a poorly-timed challenge on Guilhem Guirado at the back of a ruck. The Blues knuckled down, though, winning turnover possession and scrummaging solidly in their 22 for Sexton to lift the pressure.
Rhys Ruddock typified a big physical effort from the Leinster forwards, defending tigerishly and carrying with great intent, and Toner claimed a couple of key lineout steals. Healy, along with the temporarily replaced Josh van der Flier, returned to the pitch with the gap still at a single point.
Another Toner lineout win saw Leinster get on the front foot early on the resumption, but Sexton sent a long range penalty to the right and wide and the visitors suffered their second yellow card when Toner, having been warned by referee Nigel Owens, infringed at a maul.
Toulon piled forward in search of their second try, hammering away at a resolute Leinster defence. Escande clipped over a close-in penalty before the entire Leinster front row was changed with Sean Cronin, Jack McGrath and Martin Moore coming on.
The penalty count continued to increase against the province, Escande splitting the posts from a central position after Rob Kearney was whistled up for not releasing on the deck.
With some accurate kicking from Matt Giteau and Champions Cup debutant Ma’a Nonu, Toulon were squeezing Leinster for territory albeit that the blue defensive wall was giving little away in contact.
However, inside an energy-sapping final quarter of the hour, Escande widened the margin to 10 points following a scrum penalty inside the 22.
Fitzgerald, the best of Leinster's backs, and his centre partner Ben Te'o tried to spark the visitors' attack, but the defensive workload was taking a collective toll on Cullen's charges. They ended the match down to 14 men after replacement lock Denton needlessly played the ball off his feet.
Having dispatched the penalty to touch, Toulon duly sent man-of-the-match Armitage powering through the middle of a maul for try number two, confirming a 15-point loss for Leinster ahead of the return fixture at the Aviva Stadium next Saturday (kick-off 5.15pm).
TOULON: S. Armitage (2 tries), E. Escande (1 conversion and 4 penalties)
LEINSTER: J. Sexton (3 penalties)
TOULON: Delon Armitage; Bryan Habana, Mathieu Bastareaud, Ma'a Nonu, Drew Mitchell; Matt Giteau, Eric Escande; Florian Fresia, Guilhem Guirado, Matt Stevens, Samu Manoa, Romain Taofifenua, Mamuka Gorgodze, Steffon Armitage, Duane Vermeulen.
REPLACEMENTS: Anthony Etrillard, Xavier Chiocci, Levan Chilachava, Juan Smith, Tom Taylor, Maxime Mermoz, Anthony Meric, Jocelino Suta.
15. Rob Kearney (Dave Kearney, 62)
14. Fergus McFadden
13. Ben Te'o
12. Luke Fitzgerald (Ian Madigan, 76)
11. Isa Nacewa CAPTAIN
10. Jonathan Sexton
9. Isaac Boss (Eoin Reddan, 51)
1. Cian Healy (Jack McGrath, 49)
2. Richardt Strauss (Sean Cronin, 49)
3. Mike Ross (Martin Moore, 49)
4. Devin Toner
5. Mike McCarthy (Tom Denton, 62)
6. Rhys Ruddock
7. Josh van der Flier (Jack McGrath, 28-35; Jordi Murphy, 69)
8. Jamie Heaslip
REFEREE: Nigel Owens (Wales); ASSISTANT REFEREES: Gwyn Morris, Wayne Davies (both Wales); TMO: Derek Bevan (Wales); CITING COMMISSIONER: John Byett (England).