CASTRES, FRANCE – After last weekend’s shocks and surprises, normal service – mostly – resumed for the opening salvo of a three-matches-in-nine-days rugbyathon for France’s Top 14 clubs.
Stade Francais and Biarritz have, arguably, the best of this particularly crowded section of the fixture list. Just.
They met on Friday night at the Parisian side’s shiny new-look Stade Jean-Bouin. It means they have an extra few hours to recover before Wednesday night’s full Top 14 programme. An easy home victory against the side from the Basque country leaves Stade somewhere they haven’t been for the longest time – at the top of the table, looking down on everyone else. The question is: it has been so long, will they suffer a nosebleed? We’ll find out on Wednesday, when they travel to Castres.
Grenoble and Toulon may rue the demands of the broadcasters, who decided that their clash at Stade des Alpes should be the one to grace the coveted Saturday evening slot.
But what a game it was. It had everything and then some. It even had Bryan Habana. And it was decided on the last kick of the game. And Jonny Wilkinson kicked it. And what happened next ain’t what you’d expect. He missed. It meant Grenoble added a famous 28-26 win against Toulon to their famous 25-24 victory over Toulon from last season. You can read all about it here… if you haven’t already.
Bayonne and Perpignan also suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous scheduling. Their game kicked off just five minutes earlier than Grenoble v Toulon. But, it’s possible most of the players at Stade Jean Dauger were showered, changed and on their way home after hosts Bayonne notched up a 31-20 win by the time the ref called a halt to proceedings at Stade des Alpes.
For the first hour of their trip to Clermont, Toulouse had every chance of breaking a remarkable Stade Marcel-Michelin record. The jeune-et-bleu’s winning streak at home stretched all the way back to November 2009 – a remarkable 60 games. At just 20-19 down with 20 minutes left, Guy Noves’ side were in real danger of bringing the Fortress crashing down. But that was about as good as it would get for the visitors as Clermont simply moved up a gear. Their perfect home record now stands at 61. Heaven help Bayonne on Wednesday…
Tip for someone – anyone – in the backroom at Top 14 new boys Oyonnax… Burn the godawful gold kit your side have worn in two of their three outings in the top flight this season. They sported it on the opening day, when they were thumped by Bayonne, and it was on show again at Racing Metro’s Stade Yves du Manoir on Saturday. To be fair, they had the better of things early on, but after leading 9-6 at half-time, they conspired – partly through the medium of three yellow cards – to lose the second period 16-0. Ireland’s Jonny Sexton finally started paying back his deep-pocketed new paymasters by kicking 17 of their 22-point total. Keep it red guys. You wore red against Clermont and won.
Indiscipline cost reigning champions Castres dear as their hopes of a second win in a row fell foul of former player Pierre Barnard, who kicked all of Bordeaux’s points in a 21-20 squeaker at Jacques Chabin-Delmas. It would all have been so different had the bounce of the ball favoured centre Seremaia Bai in the opening minutes, or if replacement scrum-half Rory Kockott had the legs to score in the corner late in the game.
You’d imagine that Montpellier coach Fabien Galthie would be pleased to see his side’s notch their first victory of the season. After all, in beating Brive, they jumped from bottom of the pile to a nearly respectable seventh. But – for reasons known only to themselves – they stopped playing rugby shortly after the hour, and what had promised to be a bonus-point romp turned into a merely adequate 33-24 win, as Brive scored notched up three converted tries in the final 20 minutes.
There’s not much time for anyone to recover, as there’s a full fixture list on Wednesday, and another on Sunday. Life’s tough in the French top flight.