|Toulon (0) 11|
|Try: Parisse Pens: Carbonel 2|
|Scarlets (6) 6|
|Pens: Halfpenny 2|
Sergio Parisse’s try proved the difference as Toulon came from behind to edge visiting Scarlets in their European Challenge Cup quarter-final.
Leigh Halfpenny’s two penalties had given the Welsh a slim half-time lead.
But Toulon’s introduction of Louis Carbonel off the bench early in the second half sparked a French revival.
The fly-half kicked two goals and his quick-thinking with a tap penalty launched the move that saw Italy number eight great Parisse crash over.
Toulon will now host Leicester in the semi-finals, after the English side’s opponents Castres had to forfeit their quarter-final when three of the French team’s players tested positive for coronavirus.
History against Scarlets
Saturday’s match was the fifth meeting in three seasons between the two sides, including two in this season’s pool stage – both won by Toulon.
But the previous game at the Stade Felix Mayol last November went Toulon’s way by a single point, the three-time European champions needing Anthony Belleau’s last-gasp conversion to sneak the win.
The France centre missed this match with an ACL injury, while Scarlets also had big-name absentees.
Centre Jonathan Davies was close to a return from a knee injury suffered in the 2019 World Cup but this game came just too soon.
His fellow British and Irish Lion, back Liam Williams, missed out with a foot injury while Wales fly-half Rhys Patchell (hip and calf) and prop Rob Evans (neck) were other injury absentees.
France scrum-half Baptiste Serin started at fly-half for Toulon, with specialist 10 Carbonel on the bench.
Halfpenny at home
France’s Covid-19 rules meant that 5,000 supporters were allowed into the 18,200-capacity Stade Felix Mayol and, while it was not quite the usual full-volume intimidating roar, those attending created a fine atmosphere from behind their masks.
Scarlets full-back Halfpenny certainly felt at home on the ground where he spent three years, drawing first blood with a penalty from just inside the Toulon half.
When Toulon won a penalty in a similar position, Serin instead kicked for touch to spark a series of attacking lineouts and only a brilliant tackle by Halfpenny prevented Daniel Ikpefan going over in the far corner.
Toulon thought they had scored from a scintillating breakout when Jake Ball turned the ball over in the French 22, but Ikpefan’s pass after he had broken through was judged forward and Parisse’s dive over the line at the other end of the pitch was for nothing.
Instead Halfpenny doubled Scarlets’ lead with his second penalty as they game ticked through the half-hour mark.
Serin had a chance to get Toulon on the scoreboard before the break, but pulled his first penalty attempt wide.
A deliberate knock-on by Charles Ollivon just after the restart gave Halfpenny a third shot at goal but this time the Scarlet was wide with his long-range attempt.
Toulon were still misfiring in a scrappy game, but Carbonel – replacing Serin – finally got their first points with a penalty.
It was Carbonel who sparked Toulon into life as he took a quick tap that caught Scarlets napping, a swift interchange between the forwards ending in talismanic number eight Parisse crossing for an unconverted try.
When Toulon spilled a ball in the backline it was gathered greedily by Steff Evans who hared upfield, only to be dragged down just short by equally speedy opposite winger Gabin Villiere.
With 15 minutes left Halfpenny was forced off for a head injury assessment after taking a blow to the face tackling giant wing Masivesi Dakuwaqa, depriving Scarlets of their kicking master. The injury was of special concern considering his previous concussion problems.
Wales wing Johnny McNicholl also went off late on with a serious-looking leg injury.
Carbonel stretched Toulon’s lead to five points with a second penalty, but Scarlets were then able to kick deep into French territory for an attacking lineout.
The resulting drive splintered the Toulon defence but Tyler Morgan – off the bench – spilt the ball as he sprawled for the line and a golden chance for a famous win was lost.
Toulon: Daniel Ikpefan; Masivesi Dakuwaqa, Bryce Heem, Duncan Paia’aua, Gabin Villiere; Baptiste Serin, Sonatane Takulua; Jean-Baptiste Gros, Anthony Etrillard (capt), Beka Gigashvili, Swan Rebbadj, Romain Taofifenua, Charles Ollivon, Raphael Lakafia, Sergio Parisse.
Replacements: Bastien Soury, Florian Fresia, Emerick Setiano, Erwan Dridi, Brian Alainu’uese, Julien Ory, Louis Carbonel, Facundo Isa.
Scarlets: Leigh Halfpenny; Johnny McNicholl, Steff Hughes, Johnny Williams, Steff Evans; Dan Jones, Gareth Davies; Wyn Jones, Ken Owens (capt), Samson Lee, Jake Ball, Sam Lousi, Blade Thomson, Josh Macleod, Sione Kalamafoni.
Replacements: Ryan Elias, Phil Price, Javan Sebastian, Lewis Rawlins, James Davies, Kieran Hardy, Angus O’Brien, Tyler Morgan.
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Maxime Chalon (France), Vincent Blasco Baqué (France)
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TMO: Philippe Bonhoure (France)
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