Rhys Webb made his debut for Toulon tonight and the Welsh scrum-half wasted little time in impressing the locals.
The former Ospreys star scored a try before setting up another as he eased through the gears in his first 40 minutes of rugby for the French giants against Stade Francais at Stade Mayol
So just how did Webb fare on opening night for his new employers?
We’ve taken a look at what the Welshman did well and how that may bode for his time in France.
Setting the tempo
The early exchanges of this pre-season warm-up were understandably fractured – with the game broken up by a number of stoppages.
To begin with, Webb went through the motions – delivering relatively quick ball without ever really threatening to either break the defensive line or even break a sweat.
The service was neat and tidy, but you knew Webb was holding back.
As things developed, Webb started to snipe a little bit more. When he did, the Stade defence suddenly had their work cut out.
After a staggered start to the game, Webb was crucial to setting the tempo as he marked his debut with the opening try.
Starting from a scrum inside their own half, Webb drove Toulon downfield by providing quick ball and a sniping threat to keep the defence honest.
As they got into the redzone, Webb came into his own.
Another trademark snipe saw him isolate a defender, drifting off the ruck guard (1 in the image below) to ensure that the lone defender (2) had a decision to make.
Webb attacks the space between the guard and first defender – forcing the defender to turn his shoulders in.
Once he has, he has no chance. Webb gives the pass and suddenly there is a Toulon body hurtling on the ball at full pace right towards the gap where that defender once was.
It doesn’t seem like much but it gets Toulon over the gainline and right up the Stade tryline.
That’s where Webb strikes again – this time the blow is worth five points.
As he goes to play the ball from the ruck, he notices that the first defender is fully focused on the backline and his opposite man.
Webb throws a little feint to drag the defender out of the line prematurely.
That should be lesson learnt for the defender and he should know now to keep one eye on Webb.
When Webb goes again, he flies out again – leaving Webb to squeeze through the gap to score.
Other players played a part no doubt, but Webb was the driving force behind this try – not just the finisher.
Getting in the team spirit
For his debut, Webb was partnered at half-back with France U20s fly-half Louis Carbonel.
Not only did Webb lead his 19-year-old teammate with distinction, his sniping also gave Carbonel some space to play with – and even set him up with a try.
The assist is, again, trademark Webb.
From a lineout, Webb takes the ball off the top and drifts across the field looking for a gap.
The parallel run of one of his forwards alongside a defender offers him such an opportunity.
It’s not blocking, not even shepherding as such – but the presence of the Toulon forward there seems to lull the Stade defence into thinking that Webb won’t be sniping down that channel for fear of crossing.
But he does cut through there and he does so easily.
But this is the impressive part.
Having been tackled by the full-back, Webb still manages to keep the ball alive – offloading to Carbonel off the floor.
It’s a piece of magic that summed up his first match for Toulon and has left French rugby fans excited for what’s to come.
Any other business?
Just on the basis of the two tries, it’s clear that this was a very good debut for Webb.
His communication was brilliant – watch the game back on YouTube and you’ll struggle to find a breakdown where Webb isn’t bossing his teammates around.
There was even a few glimpses of the preemptive support lines that will surely set him up with a number of tries once Toulon get all their big-hitters out in the backline.
In defence, he swept up nicely, cleaning up brilliantly on one occasion when Stade looked very threatening.
In fact, there was few downsides bar the odd misplaced pass and a couple of box kicks which were a little too long to compete for.
But the early signs are good for Webb and Toulon.
They have just lost Chris Ashton – a try scoring extraordinaire who broke records in his one season in France before returning home for an international call-up.
What odds Webb does something similar this year?
Have a cursory glance on social media and you’ll see that Toulon fans were delighted with what they saw from Webb, with many calling him a “game changer”. It’s early days but they could well be right.
With all the superstars at Toulon’s disposal, it’s easy to forget how much of an impact each new marquee signing can make.
Sure, they’re bringing in Julian Savea – but they’ve been blessed with the likes of Bryan Habana and other world class wingers in the past.
The same goes for nearly any other position in their star-studded squad.
Scrum-half hasn’t always been that position of strength. You sense it will be now.