Updated: Sunday, 08 December 2013 00:56 | By Agence France-Presse

Holders Toulon go top despite Wilkinson offday

European champions Toulon gained only their second away win of the season in edging Exeter 14-9 in a scrappy encounter in the European Cup on Saturday.


Holders Toulon go top despite Wilkinson offday

Toulon's Ali Williams (centre) breaks through the Exeter Chiefs defence during their European Cup rugby union match Park in Exeter on December 7, 2013

The match, like all the others, were all preceded by a minute's silence for former South African president Nelson Mandela who died on Thursday.

The French side -- whose form has been patchy at best this season -- will be relieved that they got away with former England great Jonny Wilkinson having a rare off-day, missing four kicks though he did slot over the drop goal five minutes from time that gave them the 14-9 lead.

They top the group by a point from Welsh side Cardiff Blues after three games while Exeter, who were going down to their fourth successive defeat in all competitions, are third and Glasgow bottom.

Exeter took an early lead through a penalty but Toulon struck back with a superb try in the fifth minute as prop Florian Fresia went in on the right wing after a glorious offload by former All Black lock Ali Williams.

Wilkinson missed the conversion to leave it 5-3 to Toulon. However he landed a penalty in the 11th minute to make it 8-3 but his opposite number, Northern Irishman Gareth Steenson, converted a penalty shortly afterwards to put the hosts within two points of the champions.

That was his last contribution as he went off to be replaced by 20-year-old Henry Slade.

Slade showed little sign of nerves and produced one brilliant clearing kick deep into Toulon territory and was then twice involved in Exeter's most probing attack of the first-half which came to nothing as a pass flew into touch just five metres short of the line.

Slade, though, gave Exeter the lead shortly before half-time with a finely struck penalty and the half ended on an even lower note for Toulon as South African wing Bryan Habana pulled up in agony clutching his left hamstring on what was his debut in the competition.

Wilkinson had two chances to restore the lead to Toulon early in the second-half but missed both penalties from long distance -- one falling short and the other going wide and his unaccustomedly poor day with the boot continued as he sent another chance well wide of the posts with 20 minutes remaining.

Toulon, however, piled on the pressure and eventually regained the lead as Matt Giteau put over a penalty and Wilkinson chipped in with the drop goal to give them the crucial win.

In another of the early matches the side Toulon beat in last season's final, Clermont, took the lead against Scarlets with a Brock James penalty and the Australian then exchanged penalties with Rhys Priestland.

Clermont were only 6-3 up at half-time but they pulled away in the second period scoring four tries including two from Fijian try machine Napolioni Nalaga to go provisionally top of their pool although Rscing-Metro could leapfrog them later with victory over Harlequins.

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