LEIGH HALFPENNY’S LONG-AWAITED return to action proved a successful one as Toulon beat Montpellier 27-18 to set up a Top 14 final meeting with Racing 92.
Wales international Halfpenny was thrust back into action at Roazhon Park in Rennes today, having missed the Rugby World Cup and the entire regular season in France after suffering a serious knee injury in September.
Any fears over the full-back’s ability to make an impact following such a lengthy lay-off were emphatically dispelled, as Halfpenny provided a try assist for Ma’a Nonu in addition to kicking five penalties and a conversion.
Montpellier reduced an 18-point deficit to six in the space of half a dozen second-half minutes thanks to wing Jesse Mogg crossing twice. Yet Halfpenny’s fifth penalty gave Toulon breathing space and they will now face Racing — who edged a thrilling last-four tie with Clermont Auvergne 24 hours earlier — at Camp Nou next Friday.
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Josua Tuisova raced over on the right flank for the only try of the first half after Jonathan Pelissie had initially broken down the left, with Halfpenny’s conversion enough to earn a 14-6 interval lead for his side.
Halfpenny then turned provider when he collected a loose pass wide from Nonu and cut through a gap in the Montpellier defence before offloading for the former All Black to power over.
Mogg got Montpellier right back in the game, the Australian scoring two tries in quick succession, his second an intercept score when he telegraphed Pelissie’s floated pass from the base of a ruck.
However, that proved to be as good as it got for Jake White’s side as Toulon regained their composure – despite losing Nonu to a head injury – to wrap up victory.
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