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Stirring Exiles fightback in vain

Published: 22 Dec 2010 17:300 comments

LONDON Irish head coach Toby Booth praised his side for producing a stirring second-half fightback in their 38-17 defeat to Toulon on Saturday.

Available: Sailosi Tagicakibau is free to face Harlequins after escaping further punishment following his sending off in last weekend's defeat in Toulon.

Available: Sailosi Tagicakibau is free to face Harlequins after escaping further punishment following his sending off in last weekend's defeat in Toulon.

The Exiles trailed 17-0 at half-time at the Stade Felix-Mayol and looked down and out when Sailosi Tagicakibau received a second yellow five minutes into the second half.

But the visitors showed their character and determination to level the score with only 17 minutes remaining thanks to tries from Chris Malone and Alex Corbisiero.

Toulon rested Jonny Wilkinson after his heroics at the Madejski Stadium but his replacement, Felipe Contepomi, proved more than capable, converting his own try plus four others in addition to a penalty goal.

Toulon now top Pool Three with 13 points and look on course for a quarter-final spot.

Irish meanwhile made two changes from their previous weekend's encounter.

Centre Dan Bowden and fly-half Chris Malone were added to the backline with Ryan Lamb dropping to the bench and Elvis Seveali'i omitted from the squad.

Irish head coach Toby Booth said: "I was very pleased with our reaction to huge adversity here in Toulon.

"It does not get much bigger than being away from home in the Heineken Cup against one of the best resourced clubs in world rugby and down to 14 men with 35 minutes left to go.

"That is a real character test but I thought we stood up well to that.

"The players used up a lot of energy in getting back on level terms and we all saw what happened in the final 10 minutes. There was no shortage of fight, commitment or effort.

"But that is what the Heineken Cup is all about.

"If we continue to play like that we have a great chance of turning this streak around."

But the numerical disadvantage finally took its toll on the visitors as the tiring Irish allowed Toulon to cross three times in the last 12 minutes.

Olivier Missoup and Mickael Ivaldi touched down for Toulon in the first half and despite the loss of Tagicakibau, Irish struck back valiantly after the break through Corbisiero and Malone.

But Exiles' dreams were soon shattered by Toulon's late three-try flourish, which began with Felipe Contepomi.

Tom May caught the Irish defence short with the second try before Christian Loamanu sliced through to score the bonus-point try in the closing stages.

Exiles have slumped in form having lost seven in a row in all competitions.

They return to Premiership action on Monday when they face old rivals Harlequins at Twickenham (4.30pm).

The game will be shown live on Sky Sports.

Tagicakibau is free to play after an independent Judicial Officer, Roger Morris (Wales), considered the matter on Tuesday and determined that the sending-off was a sufficient sanction.

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