CASTRES, FRANCE – Top 14 champions Toulon have once again dominated the sporting headlines in France. Even as Les Bleus were putting Fiji to the sword in Marseille on Saturday, the Var side’s transfer-market dealings were overtaking the rugby news agenda.
It turned out it was something and nothing about Ma’a Nonu. French national pay-TV broadcaster Canal+ reported that the All Black had signed for the galacticos of Toulon. But those reports were proved inaccurate – or, at least, premature. The centre is still in New Zealand with his arm in a cast
It emerged on Saturday that it was, in fact, Northampton and Eagles’ pack monster Samu Manoa who will be a Toulon player from next season.
The news will not have entirely papered over the cracks of the Top 14 leaders 22-14 defeat at Castres. Last season’s losing finalists and champions in 2013 started the match at the bottom of the table.
Toulon, who were forced to field seven squad players due to international commitments, injury and suspensions, failed to trouble the scoreboard until 13 minutes from time, when David Smith scorched over for the first of his two tries. Three minutes later, he went over again.
Castres had already scored all their 22 points and were in control, but Toulon’s late flurry briefly silenced the faithful at Stade Pierre Antoine, who began to fear that their players’ hard work would turn out to be for nothing – such is the season panning out at Castres.
Earlier, captain Rodrigo Capo Ortega had opened the scoring for the hosts, thundering his way through Virgile Bruni to score in the corner. Romain Cabannes added a second, with kicker Geoffrey Palis slotting a conversion and a penalty to make it 15-0 at halftime.
Then, with the second half just four minutes old, marquee signing Sitiveni Sivivatu demonstrated just what his new club had been missing while he has been recovering from a shoulder injury that has kept him out for three months. A dummy from the base of a ruck 15m out fooled everyone in a pitch-wide radius, and he ran in unopposed to score on his Castres debut.
Sivivatu caused problems for the visitors all afternoon. The crowd roared every time he got hands on the ball and his fleet feet and quick rugby brain threatened to slice open a Toulon side that – truth be told – didn’t look like they wanted to be there.
Stade Francais were put firmly in their place at Clermont. After moving level on points with the Jaunards in the Top 14 table last week courtesy of a big home win over Bordeaux, the Parisians were were on the receiving end of a seven-try thumping at Stade Marcel Michelin.
Stade’s Jules Plisson opened the scoring with a 15th-minute penalty before Clermont bulldozer Fritz Lee began the try-scoring destruction two minutes later. Winger Noa Nakaitaci extended the hosts’ lead nine minutes later – and Peceli Yato ensured Clermont were in complete control seven minutes before halftime.
Plisson landed two more penalties to give the visitors a sense that they weren’t completely out of it – but that was as good as it got for the Paris bluebloods, as they were nilled in the second period.
Nakaitaci’s countryman Naipolioni Nalaga, who had chosen club over country, ran in the first of his 15-minute brace of tries three minutes after the restart. His second heralded a brief cessation in the carnage – until the five minutes before the final whistle, when both Lee and Yato touched down again.
It ended 51-9 – but it could have been worse. An offside denied Nakaitaci a second try of his own.
The international break can’t have come soon enough for Montpellier, whose season is threatening to fall apart. Rapidly.
The Herault side charged into the upper reaches of the table in the early part of the campaign, but now find themselves freefalling to eighth, having suffered their fourth defeat in a row in all competitions on Friday night.
They were beaten 25-10 at home to Brive – who, until this weekend had not won on the road in the Top 14 since February 2012.
Few would have imagined what was going to happen when Brive winger Benito Masilevu weaved his way to the line after just five minutes. Gaetan Germain converted and went on to add two more penalties as the visitors went in at halftime 13-0 up.
Brive fly-half Nicolas Bezy, brother of Toulouse’s scrum-half Sébastien, had an influential game. His clever pass gave Masilevu enough room to score his try, and he slotted two second-half drop goals to extend the visitors’ lead.
Montpellier’s Jonathan Pelissie had struggled from the kicking tee and was replaced at the end of the first period, but Germain nailed two more penalties early in the second half to take Brive 25-3 clear by the hour.
Alexandre Bias finally managed to cross the visitors’ whitewash with just eight minutes remaining, but his try was nothing more than a consolation.
Number 8 George Smith touched down twice in the first half, as Lyon threatened to pick up their first Top 14 away win at Grenoble.
But indiscipline would cost the visitors. Jonathan Wisniewski kept Grenoble in the hunt, slotting nine penalties and a conversion.
The visitors went in at halftime 17-12 up, and winger Toby Arnold also scored 11 minutes from time to take the scores to 30-24.
Replacement James Hart scored in the corner after 77 minutes to give the hosts a glimmer of a chance. Wisniewski slotted a difficult conversion from the touchline to take them into the lead, then added an 80th-minute penalty to soothe manager Bernard Jackman’s ruffled feathers.
Toulouse ended Bordeaux’s unbeaten home run at Stade Chaban-Delmas to win their sixth match in a row and roar into seventh place in the Top 14.
But it was close. Pierre Bernard had a chance to win the game for Bordeaux. But he missed a last-gasp conversion after Louis-Benoit Madaule scored two minutes from time gave the Girondais a chance to rescue the game.
Clement Poitrenaud and Florian Fritz had both crossed for the visitors in the first half, while Luke McAlister converted one, and kicked two penalties before nailing what would turn out to be the crucial drop goal five minutes from time. That score meant Madaule’s late try would be for nothing. It ended 20-21.
After last week’s win over Racing Metro, Oyonnax were too hot at home for La Rochelle. Christophe Urios’s side ran in five tries without reply as they cruised to a 37-9 win.
Jody Jenneker and Yves Donguy went over at either end of the first half, and Silvere Tian dotted down midway through the second period to put the side from the plastics city in total control.
And, when both sides were reduced to 14 men in the final 10 minutes, it was Oyonnax who made the most of the greater available space. Christophe André and Fabien Cibray both scored to add emphatic punctuation to an impressive Top 14 win.
Bayonne were unable to repeat Oyonnax’s Racing Metro trick, and headed back to the Basque Country with nothing following a 27-10 defeat at Colombes.
Henry Chavancy touched down for the hosts after 15 minutes, but it was the boot of France cast-off Maxime Machenaud that made certain of the points for the ciel-et-bleu. He converted Chavancy’s try and nailed five penalties to take the hosts out of sight.
Marc Andreu added a late second try for the hosts, to cancel out Anthony Etrillard’s 54th-minute score for Bayonne.
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