TOULON 60 ULSTER 22
Defending European Champions, Toulon, became the first team to secure a place in the last eight of the new-look competition when they secured a full five match points with this win over Ulster.
Italian prop, Martin Castrogiavani, crossed for the bonus point securing try on 49 minutes which signalled the traditional throwing of newspapers in the air by the Toulon crowd.
The French side, champions of Europe in the past two seasons when it was the Heineken Cup, were expected to get the job done a week early in Pool Three against a further weakened Ulster side.
But the Irish Province gave them a real scare - picking up a try scoring bonus point in the end - and had the usually partisan crowd silenced until early in the second half.
When Toulon outhalf Nicholas Sanchez crossed for a try just after two minutes - fullback Leigh Halfpenny converting for a 7-0 lead - it looked ominous for Ulster.
Halfpenny made it 10-0 with a penalty on nine minutes, but Ulster were not allowing the European champions to have it all their own way.
Paddy Jackson finished off a great move to go in for a try and a lineout and driving maul saw Mike McComish awarded a try via the TMO. Jackson missed both conversions while Halfpenny kept the French side slightly ahead 13-10 at the end of the first quarter with a penalty.
However, it was to turn sour for Ulster. Already down to the bare bones in terms of bench selection for the game, first Louis Ludik went down injured and then Jackson, both forced off.
South African winger Brian Habana crossed on 32 minutes and a third try came just at the end of the first half through centre Bastearaud.
Halfpenny added both conversions for a 27-10 lead at the interval and the result was probably inevitable at that stage.
Half time reports suggested Ludik had damaged ribs and Jackson a suspected dislocated left elbow.
Stuart Olding was to take a knock early in the second half to his left wrist and although he was strapped up, Ulster decided to take precautions and replaced him with Michael Heaney - the visitors now had three scrumhalves on the pitch!
Ulster were enjoying a real purple patch at the start of the second half and Jared Payne was just held up following some good build-up play.
Toulon simply stepped it up a gear and by the hour mark had scored three more tries with inter-play which was simply a joy to watch.
Italian prop Martin Castrogiavani went over on 49 minutes for the crucial bonus point securing try and then Steffon Armitage and replacement Mamuka Gorgodze went over.
Halfpenny made it eight from eight with the boot as Toulon cruised into a 48-10 advantage.
Armitage went over for his second, Halfpenny converting to take the French fancies through the 50-barrier, but Ulster produced a nice bit of play themselves with Darren Cave, McComish, Alan O’Connor all involved and Humphreys angled a lovely kick to the corner for Payne to touchdown.
And while Ulster had been outclassed, they were to leave Stade Mayol with their pride intact, Mike McComish going over for his second and a fourth try to give the visitors a bonus point for their efforts.
But the final say rightly belonged to Toulon, Armitage getting his hat-trick and taking Toulon to 60 points. Halfpenny showed he was human after all, his conversion hitting the post to deny him a 100 per cent return of nine kicks from nine.
Toulon: L Halfpenny; D Mitchell, M Bastareaud, M Mermoz, B Habana; N Sanchez, S Tillous-Borde; X Chiocci, G Guirado, M Castrogiovanni; R Taofifenua, J Suta, J Smith, S Armitage, C Masoe (cpt).
Replacements: J-C Orioli, F Fresia (Chiocci 51), C Hayman, M Gorgodze (Smith 59), R Wulf (Bastareaud 65), D Smith (Sanchez, E Escande (Tillous-Borde 59), K Mikautadze (Suta 63)
Ulster: J Payne; L Ludik, D Cave, S Olding, M Allen; P Jackson, R Pienaar; A Warwick, R Herring, B Ross; A O’Connor, F Van der Merwe; C Ross, M McComish, R Wilson (cpt).
Replacements: J Andrew (Herring 70), C Black (Warwick 52), D Fitzpatrick (B Ross 51), L Stevenson (van de Merwe 59), R Diack (Wilson 51), P Marshall (Jackson 32), I Humphreys (Ludik 24), M Heaney (Olding 44).