Duane Vermeulen’s Toulon suffered a 10-3 defeat against Saracens in the European Champions Cup in London on Saturday, but the losing bonus-point was enough to book them a place in the last eight.
Saracens had already qualified for the knockout stage of the competition before this match, but this result secures them a home quarter-final. Toulon, on the other hand, needed a point to avoid premature elimination from the tournament.
In a pulsating first half, neither side could break the deadlock until Toulon were reduced to 14 men in the 30th minute when captain Vermeulen was yellow carded for high tackle. Owen Farrell converted the resulting penalty to hand Sarries a slender 3-0 lead at the break.
Saracens, who had flanks Schalk Burger and Michael Rhodes, prop Petrus du Plessis and hooker Schalk Brits in their ranks, landed the first blow in the second half. Toulon-bound winger Chris Ashton crossed for a converted try for a 10-0 advantage.
But Toulon, through the hard graft of their forwards, which included the likes of Vermeulen and Juan Smith, stayed in the game. When Sarries conceded a breakdown penalty close to the halfway line, Leigh Halfpenny stepped up to turn the opportunity into three crucial points.
There were to be a couple of nervy moments for Saracens close to the end, with Toulon coming close to scoring twice, but try-saving tackles by ex-Stormers player Rhodes and lock Will Skelton rescued the hosts.
Wing Bryan Habana and replacement prop Marcel van der Merwe were the other South Africans to play for Toulon, who qualify as one of the three best runners-up out of the five pools.
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