Last-gasp Slade wins it for Exeter
Toulon stunned as Henry holds nerve to seal victory
By Adam Hathaway AT STADE FELIX MAYOL
HENRY SLADE pulled another rabbit out of the hat as Exeter stunned three-times Champions Cup winners Toulon in their own backyard and got their European ball rolling.
Three weeks ago Slade’s late penalty did for Gloucester at Sandy Park and the centre, snubbed by England for the World Cup, was at it again as he banged over a conversion with the final kick of the game to get Exeter home.
Chiefs had not won away from home until beating Newcastle on the road a fortnight ago but showed no signs of travel sickness here as they rallied from 18-5 down at the break to put a foot in the last 16.
Centre Slade, 30, was snubbed for England’s World Cup squad but has knuckled down to help director of rugby Rob Baxter rebuild Chiefs after Champions Cup winners Jack Nowell, Sam Simmonds and Luke Cowan-Dickie left last season.
Slade played here as a youngster 10 years ago when Exeter were outpointed by the-then best side in Europe. But he proved an old head amongst a team of young ones as he got one over the French.
Baxter said: ‘It was his first senior start here 10 years ago, playing against a Toulon team that had Jonny Wilkinson on the bench, and were European champions and we come back 10 years later and here he is nailing a match-winning kick.
‘It’s an incredible individual journey for him, but shows what the club has been through. He started when we lost home and away to Toulon and in that period has caps, won European trophies and Premierships and here we go again.
‘He is very important — he has re-found some youthfulness and energy, and is training and playing like a young man. If you are building a young team, you still need senior players to play like young men and he is doing that physically and emotionally. He is playing some of the best rugby he has played for two or three years.’
Chiefs got away to a flyer against the odds, and the run of play, when fly-half Harvey Skinner scored after 15 minutes. But the writing quickly looked on the wall as Toulon, with the injured Dan Biggar looking on, seemed to have put the game to bed with tries from former London Irish scrum-half Ben White and prop Beka Gigashvili plus two penalties from fly-half Enzo Herve.
That gave them an 18-5 lead at the break — but this Chiefs side have got a bit about them.
Replacement hooker Max Norey barged over on the hour, Slade popped over the conversion and all bets were off at 18-12. The English side threw the lot at Toulon and were rewarded when flanker Jacques Vermeulen crashed over with two minutes left. Slade took his time with the conversion, replacing the ball once, as Toulon attempted to charge him down but held his nerve from 30 yards for a win that was a victory for doggedness and refusal to lie down.
Baxter added: ‘I don’t think a load of people had us coming over here and winning but we hung in there. You have to hang in there and put pressure on the opposition. Once we scored in the second half and that scoreboard started to look scary for Toulon, it made it easier for us.’
dmg media (UK)