Toulon go top as Ospreys down Munster
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Toulon fought off a second-half challenge by London Irish to secure a bonus win and move to the top of a fiercely contested Group 3 ahead of Munster, who fell to Welsh side Ospreys.
AFP - Welsh side Ospreys beat two-time champions Munster for the first time in the European Cup on Saturday with a 19-15 victory to turn their Pool 3 into a three horse race for the top spot which is the only one guaranteeing a certain place in the last eight.
French side Toulon lead the pool after they ran away with a 38-17 thrashing of struggling English side London Irish, who had come back from 17-0 down to 17-17 after being reduced to 14 men but still slumped to their seventh successive defeat in all competitions.
The Ospreys - only beaten once at home in the past five years - and Munster fought out another titanic tussle in Wales with the hosts prevailing thanks largely to some superb defence.
The Irish side had taken the lead in the 23rd minute as prop Tony Buckley burrowed over aided by flanker David Wallace with Ronan O'Gara converting but the Ospreys hit back immediately.
A fine backs move ended with Welsh international scrum-half Mike Phillips using his huge frame to force his way over and did enough to convince the video referee that he had touched the ball down for his first try in 33 European Cup appearances.
Dan Biggar converted and with two penalties to O'Gara's one the hosts took a 13-10 lead in at the break.
Biggar added another after the break against the run of play after Munster had laid siege to the Ospreys line without being able to get over it - but the Irish side stormed back to score a second try from Keith Earls.
The Ospreys, though, held firm in defence but may rue the fact that they failed to add more points just before the final whistle which allowed their opponents to gain what could be a crucial bonus point.
Ospreys captain Alun-Wyn Jones said that the backs to the wall defence in the opening period of the second-half had been a turning point.
"It was a mirror image of the first-half. We weathered the storm and were onto a good thing after that," he said.
His Munster counterpart Denis Leamy concurred.
"We had our chances but I think a lack of composure did for us," he said.
"Perhaps we got too impatient when we got into the danger positions. We took a step back today in terms of the scrum which is an area we made huge steps in this season."
Jones, though, accepted that the Ospreys still had a huge task to reach the last eight, which they have qualified for the past three years.
"We're not over the top yet and we have a bit to do," he said.
Toulon looked to be cruising at 17-0 and with the English visitors reduced to 14 men early in the second-half when Sailosi Tagicakibau was sent off.
However, the red card sparked London Irish into life and they scored two tries in quick order from Chris Malone and Alex Corbisiero.
Toulon, though, regrouped and were never again in danger once Argentinian veteran Felipe Contepomi had waltzed over - part of his total of 18 points from the match - and romped away to win easily and get a bonus point to boot.
Toulon president Mourad Boudjellal was delighted at how his side are coping with their fiorst foray into European rugby's premier competition.
"There is a soul to this team, and we are capable of putting together good results in big matches," said Boudjellal.
Leinster moved five points clear at the top of Pool B after a 24-8 win over French club Clermont Auvergne in Dublin.
The Irish province had been looking for revenge after last weekend's defeat in France and were helped by the return of Brian O'Driscoll and Jamie Heaslip from injury.
Cian Healy touched down the opening try after eight minutes as the hosts opened up a 10-3 half-time lead on front of a record 41,000 spectators for a club match at a freezing Lansdowne Road.
Further tries from Healy and Sean O'Brien were converted by Jonathan Sexton before Napolioni Nalaga broke through for Clermont with a try on 69 minutes.
Leinster missed out on the bonus but are strongly placed to advance with a five-point lead on French clubs Racing Metro an Clermont with two games to go.
Earlier, former European champions Ulster gave themselves a great chance of reaching the knockout stages for the first time since the year they won the trophy in 1999 when they completed the double over Bath with a 26-22 triumph.
Their victory - only their second away win in their previous 14 European Cup trips - kept the pressure on Pool 4 leaders Biarritz, who have to travel to the Irish province in January with a three point advantage.