CASTRES, FRANCE – Fabien Galthie has been “suspended” from his post as head coach at Montpellier, according to reports in France.
At a press conference on Tuesday morning, club owner Mohed Altrad described this season as a “failure”, adding: “In a rugby club, whatever the level, it’s rare to lose eight out of nine matches.
“It’s a conservative suspension and not necessarily a sanction. Fabien is suspended until Friday next week for internal reasons and to try to get us out of this situation.”
Galthie’s future has been in doubt for some time following a string of defeats – and, after the weekend’s 27-9 loss at the hands of the Top 14’s basement club, Castres, writing that had previously been merely on the wall was illuminated in flashing neon.
But, Altrad insisted the former French international scrum-half had not been sacked. He said: “For the moment he is suspended, a sacking is a whole different process.
“It depends on his behaviour, on what he’s going to say and do. We’ve asked him to think about the club’s future and come back with some projects.
“In the meantime we’ve gone looking outside for some expertise, in the person of Jake White, who is world renown, who won the World Cup, who guided two teams (the Sharks and Brumbies) to the final and semi-finals of the Super 15.”
His task won’t be easy. Montpellier have only won one Top 14 game since September 20 – the three-point squeaker at home to Toulouse last weekend, and have lost their first four European Champions Cup matches this season.
Shaun Sowerby has joined the club as forwards coach. Both he and White will work alongside backs coach Stéphane Glas, who somehow survived the backroom cull that saw the departure of former forwards coach Mario Ledesma in November.
Previous reports of Galthie’s demise had been premature, as player power apparently overturned club owner Mohed Altrad’s desire to bring in a new broom after the defeat against Bath in early December.
The coach, who was contracted to the club until 2017, was still very publicly in charge for the trip to Castres’ Pierre Antoine on Sunday. He was a regular feature on TV as the Canal+ producer at the game regularly cut to his increasingly grim countenance during the game.
The visitors were comprehensively beaten. After a decent opening quarter, they spent the rest of the match bad-temperedly chasing shadows. They looked leaden, lumpen and one-dimensional – and a side more confident than Castres would have racked up a much bigger score.
As it was, 17 of the Tarn side’s points came courtesy of the boot of Rory Kockott, while new dad Thomas Combezou celebrated the birth of his daughter a day earlier by scoring a brace of tries.
Victory at Lyon’s Matmut Stadium came in the most dramatic, Hollywood-style circumstances. It had looked all-too easy for the visitors, who came into the game second in the table and were looking to go top. Peceli Yato touched down for the visitors just before the half-hour, as Clermont looked set to follow in Toulouse’s footsteps and become only the second side to win here in more than 20 games.
But Lyon are made of stern stuff. They did not panic. In the final 30 minutes, they battered their way into the game. The LOU faithful roared on as fullback Jerome Porical made if first 13-6 and then 13-9.
But it seemed it would all be in vain, as Clermont’s defence – led by the indefatigable Julien Bonnaire – creaked and strained but held firm. The Jaunards were aided and abetted by the referee, whose rather generous definition of a stopped maul denied the hosts what looked like a cast-iron try with 15 minutes to play.
Lesser sides than Lyon on this night may have given up then. But – at 13-9 down – with the last play of the game, as the clocked ticked past 80 minutes, the hosts found themselves a matter of metres from the Clermont line.
Still they did not panic. Enrico Januarie let slip the backs from the base of the ruck. Porical ran across the Clermont defence. His perfect delayed pass found Kendrick Lynn who simply had to dive over.
It was no less than Lyon deserved. And when Porical added the conversion, the celebrations began.
Jason Eaton’s solitary try of the game proved the difference between the two sides in a game that turned into a battle of the boot. Fabien Fortassin and Jean Pascal Barraque were the hero kickers for the home side, while Jonathan Wisniewski scored all the visitors’ points.
Castres inability to pick up a bonus point at home to Montpellier meant that La Rochelle’s win was enough to keep them one point ahead of the 2013 Top 14 champions in the table.
Another club. Another coach making the news. Stade Francais’ Gonzalo Quesada celebrated signing a contract extension by guiding his side to a 30-6 win over Toulon in Paris that will have soured any Sir Jonny celebrations in the Var town.
It was a dreadful match in played in sub-zero temperatures. Nothing much happened for more than an hour after Sergio Parisse had made the most of a gap the size of the Eiffel Tower in Toulon’s defence four minutes into the game. Jules Plisson kicked the Parisians into a 16-6 halftime lead, but the most notable event after Parisse’s try was Leigh Halfpenny’s first penalty attempt falling short from 45m.
With nine minutes to go, however, the game burst into life. First, Halfpenny missed a second penalty so badly it would have gone wide of a second set of posts.
Kicking at goal was a very cool-headed decision, as it would have brought Toulon to within seven points with the clock ticking down – not close enough for a defensive bonus point in this season’s Top 14.
Had it gone over, it would, however, have meant they were in penalty range for a second attempt. But it didn’t – which meant that Nicholas Sanchez’s drop goal shot five minutes later was, at best, foolish.
It would also turn out to be a gift for the home side.
Stade regathered from the 22 dropout, and an awe-inspiring sweeping move that was more than the game deserved ended when Jeremy Sinzelle dived over. Plisson added the conversion – and Stade had a little less than three minutes to score a try that would give them an attacking bonus.
On any normal day, it would not have been enough. But this weekend, when all seven Top 14 matches were held on the same day, had something of the Hollywood about it.
Forty seconds from time, prop Zurabi Zhvania made himself an unlikely hero when he picked up a perfect pass to score the crucial touchdown in the corner. And Plisson, with the last kick of the game, slotted the conversion as the Stade Jean Bouin bell tolled.
Even the epilogue was filled with drama. Toulon’s Mathieu Bastareaud burst into tears as he spoke to CanalPlus after the match. “Since the beginning of the season I haven’t been able to find my form. I’m a zombie. I think that now I’ve come to the end of the road. There comes a time when you have to say stop!” he said.
Toulouse duked out a mud-sodden war of attrition against Racing Metro, eventually winning 15-9. Luke McAlister took over kicking duties after Toby Flood had kicked the opening penalty of the match. And the former All Black did the business for the hosts, with Benjamin Dambielle kicking the Franciliens’ points.
It was another kickathon at Stade Charles Mathon, where Oyonnax beat Bayonne 12-9, with Benjamin Urdapilleta getting the better of Christophe Loustalot in the kicking competition. Oyonnax is a tough place to go at the best of times, but pity any side that has to go there in the depths of winter.
It has been a little quiet on the Bordeaux try-scoring front in recent weeks. But on the weekend in which only 16 tries were scored in the whole of the Top 14, Raphael Ibanez’s side reminded their rivals just what they’re capable of with a seven-try demolition of Brive at Stade Chaban-Delmas.
There was merely a hint of what was to come at halftime. Brive had worked their way into an 11th-minute lead, courtesy of a try from Elia Radikedike before Louis Benoit Madaule pointed out to his Bordeaux colleagues just where the try line was.
Metuisela Talebula followed Madaule’s directions shortly before halftime to ensure the hosts went into the dressing room 13-10 up.
And then the floodgates opened. Prop Sebastien Taofifenua crashed over three minutes into the second half. Yann Lesgourgues darted over 10 minutes later. And, after a penalty try on the hour, both Blair Connor and Thibault Lacroix found their way through what – by this time – was only laughingly called Brive’s defence.
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