Top 14 Review: Clermont win at home… as predicted

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CASTRES, FRANCE – Like astrology, rugby punditry – certainly Top 14 rugby punditry – can be so much crystal ball-gazing.

Unlike astrology, rugby punditry is, at least a little, based on facts, figures and, when all else fails, almost-reasonable assumption. It’s reasonable to predict, for example, that Clermont will win at Marcel Michelin, and that a side at the top of the table will beat a side at the bottom of the table nine times out of 10.

Also unlike astrology, it’s easy to test rugby punditry. To destruction, if necessary. So, here, we look back at predictions for last weekend, compare them to what actually happened… and then try to put the best spin on them, so that you think that we know what we’re talking about.

Things that could have happened… but didn’t

Steffon Armitage scored for Toulon in their Top 14 encounter with Montpellier

Steffon Armitage scored for Toulon in their Top 14 encounter with Montpellier

Montpellier could have beaten Toulon in Toulon. If they brought their Triple A-Plus game.

Sadly, someone lost it en route from Yves du Manoir to Stade Mayol. In fact, the only game they could find on the luggage rack the team bus was their C game, which was definitely not good enough to come out on top at Toulon.

Fortunately for the visitors, their hosts have not been at the top of their game in recent weeks, either in the Top 14 or in Europe, which is why they only managed to run in five tries in a 43-10 victory. If they had been in true rampant Toulon form, the score would have been even nastier from a Montpellier point of view.

Things that should have happened… and did
Oyonnax moved above Bayonne in the Top 14 with a hard-fought 9-6 battle-of-the-boot win at Stade Charles Mathon. It left the visitors in the second relegation spot, with only fellow Basque Country side Biarritz below them.

Castres’ international number 8 Antonie Claassen scored twice in five first-half minutes as the Top 14 champions swept aside Perpignan 37-13 at Stade Pierre Antoine. Remi Tales and Seremaia Bai also touched down as the hosts picked up a bonus point that moved them into second place in the table, and saw the Catalan side drop to 11th, just four points – or one win – out of the relegation zone.

Fortunately for Perpignan, who travel to Paris to face Stade Francais on Sunday, the team immediately below them in the league, Oyonnax, face a mission impossible at Clermont on the same day.

As expected, Grenoble failed to pick up a bonus point against Stade Francais, though – also as expected – they made the lily-liveried side work harder for their points than the 21-6 scoreline suggests.

When Geoffrey Doumayrou touched down after 25 minutes, it looked for all the world like a thumping was on the cards, but the gritty Isere side stayed in the game until 11 minutes from time, when fly-half Meyer Bosman crossed the whitewash before Morne Steyn added three late penalties to give the score a flattering look.

Things that happened that were so obvious they were barely predictions in the first place

Clermont's Fritz Lee crashes into the Biarritz line in their Top 14 clash at Stade Marcel Michelin

Clermont’s Fritz Lee crashes into the Biarritz line in their Top 14 clash at Stade Marcel Michelin

Biarritz, the last visiting side to win at Clermont’s Stade Marcel Michelin back in November 2009, couldn’t repeat the trick four years’ later. Vern Cotter’s side consolidated their place at the head of the Top 14 with what – after a cagey first half ended 3-3 – turned out to be a comprehensive 35-6 win.

Julien Malzieu’s 50th-minute try opened the floodgates, then Gerhard Vosloo and Regan King scored twice in quick succession after an hour before Thierry Lacrampe made sure of the bonus point in the dying moments.

Things that happened – or nearly happened – that no one could have predicted

Brive's Gaetan Germain

Brive’s Gaetan Germain

Star-studded Racing Metro have flattered to deceive all season – and no one’s really buying their underachievement any more. Which is why a Brive win was widely predicted…

A gritty 9-9 draw was pretty much off anyone’s agenda before the start of the game – and it very nearly stayed off the agenda for the 80 minutes of the game.

Gaetan Germain appeared to have just about done enough to win the points for the hosts, until Jonny Sexton kicked the crucial score-levelling penalty at the death.

Toulouse beat Bordeaux, as expected. What was not expected was that the visitors would push them harder than many other Top 14 sides visiting Stade Ernest Wallon this season. In fact, the visitors were ahead for a large portion of the game – until Lionel Beauxis kicked the vital penalty to put Toulouse 18-16 ahead with 14 minutes remaining.

Even then, Bordeaux had a chance to win the match, but a last-gasp long-range penalty fell short.

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James Harrington... Before injury brought his rugby career to a timely end, journalist James was equally useless whether he packed down in the second row or at number 8, positions in which he represented his school and university with indistinction. The prolific one now lives in France with his journalist wife and three children and watches as much Top 14, European and international action he thinks he can get away with; justifying his obsession by claiming: "But it's all work, Honey!"

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