A weakened Newcastle Falcons did what only one other side has done in Europe’s top-tier competition and beat Toulon at the Stade Mayol, winning 26-25.
It was a remarkable performance from the visitors, who went into the interval ahead despite being 10-0 behind early on via Romain Taofifenua’s try and Francois Trinh-Duc’s three-pointer.
Joel Hodgson began the comeback from the tee before Kyle Cooper crossed the whitewash to level matters at the end of the opening quarter. Hodgson then added successive penalties for a six-point buffer but Raphael Lakafia’s effort reduced the deficit at the break.
A penalty try then extended the Falcons’ lead but Guilhem Guirado’s try and Trinh-Duc’s three-pointer took Patrice Collazo’s charges ahead.
They appeared set to scrape their way to an unconvincing triumph but Hodgson’s late effort off the tee won a dramatic encounter, leaving the Mayol stunned.
Dean Richards named a weakened side for this encounter but, despite an awful start, which saw Taofifenua charge down Michael Young’s attempted box-kick and score, the visitors, who are bottom of the Premiership, were exceptional from thereon in.
They did concede next when Trinh-Duc kicked a penalty but the Englishmen grew into the contest and reduced the arrears as Hodgson was on target from the tee.
The Falcons were playing some impressive rugby and were earning plenty of territory from an ill-disciplined Toulon side. Johnny Williams was physical in midfield and Sinoti Sinoti was his usual electric self, but the hard work was done up front and, after a series of phases inside the opposition 22, Cooper burrowed across the line.
Newcastle maintained their pressure on the hosts and Hodgson kicked them in front for the first time in the match.
With the French outfit conceding penalties regularly, it gave their fly-half another opportunity from the tee and he was in no mood to miss, bisecting the uprights for a 16-10 advantage after Jean-Baptiste Gros had been sin-binned.
Toulon were evidently frustrated but they responded well to being behind and scored when a rolling maul ended with Lakafia touching down.
It kept them in the contest going into the second period but the Tynesiders remained resilient and produced a brilliant move for Hodgson to go clear. He passed to wing Sinoti, who looked set to score until Daniel Ikpefan took him high, which led to a yellow card and penalty try.
Annoyed by that decision, with supporters and players arguing that there was obstruction in the build-up, they once again lifted the intensity and Guirado went over after Hodgson was sin-binned.
The Falcons were the team that were now making the mistakes and another infringement led to Trinh-Duc regaining the hosts’ lead.
However, the momentum changed once again when Richards’ men built pressure and it resulted in Julian Savea becoming the third Toulon player to be yellow carded.
With the home side down to 14 men, Newcastle put their opponents under further duress and Hodgson won the game from the tee with 10 minutes to go.
Tries: R Taofifenua, Lakafia, Guirado
Cons: Trinh-Duc 2
Pens: Trinh-Duc 2
Yellow Cards: Gros, Ikpefan, Savea
Tries: Cooper, penalty try
Pens: Hodgson 4
Yellow Card: Hodgson
Toulon: 15 Daniel Ikpefan, 14 Josua Tuisova, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 Anthony Belleau, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Francois Trinh-Duc, 9 Eric Escande, 8 Raphael Lakafia (c), 7 Stephane Onambele, 6 Jean Monribot, 5 Romain Taofifenua, 4 Swan Rebbadj, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Jean-Baptiste Gros
Replacements: 16 Anthony Etrillard, 17 Xavier Chiocci, 18 Sébastien Taofifenua, 19 Jacques Potgieter, 20 Malakai Fekitoa, 21 Hugo Bonneval, 22 Anthony Meric, 23 Florent Vanverberghe
Newcastle: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Tom Arscott, 13 Tom Penny, 12 Johnny Williams, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Joel Hodgson, 9 Michael Young, 8 Nemani Nagusa, 7 Gary Graham, 6 Mark Wilson (c), 5 Glen Young, 4 Will Witty, 3 David Wilson, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Sami Mavinga
Replacements: 16 George McGuigan, 17 Adam Brocklebank, 18 Logovi’i Mulipola, 19 Ryan Burrows, 20 Callum Chick, 21 Sonatane Takulua, 22 Brett Connon, 23 Pedro Bettencourt
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
Assistant referees: Craig Evans (Wales), Wayne Davies (Wales)
TMO: Neil Patterson (Scotland)