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CASTRES, FRANCE – It has been another week of changes at the head of the Top 14.Toulouse, who started the 11th round of matches looking down on the rest of the league now find themselves in fourth after another defeat on the road; meanwhile, only points difference separates Toulon and Montpellier, who move up from third and fourth respectively to first and second following useful home wins; and Clermont drop to third, despite not actually losing at Castres.
Nothing has changed at the wrong end of the table, however. Biarritz remain rooted to the foot of the league despite their first victory in the Top 14 the second weekend of the season. Oyonnax also won, but a potentially crucial losing bonus point for Bayonne means the club from the plastic city are stuck in the relegation zone.
After last Saturday’s horror show against Toulouse, in which he missed three match-winning shots at goal in the closing six minutes of the game, Jonny Wilkinson this week remembered to pack his kicking boots for Bordeaux’s Friday night visit to Stade Mayol. He kicked four penalties, two drop goals and two conversions as the Var side won 37-17 – without managing to pick up a bonus point.
The visitors, thanks to Pierre Barnard, were still very much in the game at half-time – but the second period saw them with their backs to the wall trying to repel wave after wave of Toulon attack. They failed three times, as Matt Giteau, Ali Williams and Delon Armitage all crossed their line, while Metuisela Talebula scored for the visitors to deny the hosts the bonus.
That win meant Toulon leapfrogged Toulouse to go top of the table. And they stay there as the former leaders lost at Brive, Clermont clinched a last-gasp draw at Castres and Montpellier failed to pick up a bonus point against Grenoble.
Brive extended their unbeaten home record to five games with a breathtaking start-to-finish performance against their big-name opponents. The home side were denied an opening-minute try only by the video referee – but scored soon after as Guillaume Ribes barged over from close range. By the end of the first half, the hosts were 16-0 to the good.
Toulouse have been here before. Only last week they were 12-0 down at home to Toulon and still won. This time it was not to be. Gaetan Germain kicked three second-half penalties, which meant Yuann Huget’s 70th-minute try was a consolation, adding just a veneer of respectability to the 25-13 final scoreline.
If that result was a shock, it was nothing compared to the seismic events at Parc des Sports Aguilera as Biarritz, 11 points adrift at the bottom of the Top 14, came back from 0-6 down at halftime to beat Racing Metro 9-6 in an encounter that was almost as dour as the scoreline suggests. But, for the Basque side, it’s a case of never mind the quality, enjoy the victory. It may be too late for them to survive, but their fans will now be hoping they will not go down without a fight.
Interestingly, a week ahead of Ireland’s first November international game next week, Racing left Jonny Sexton on the bench. In a particularly tight season, where just five points separate first and 10th, it may turn out to be a decision that costs them dear when it matters.
Oyonnax added Perpignan to the list of illustrious Top 14 sides that have left Stade Charles Mathon in defeat. Once again, they had the cool head and unerring boot of Benjamin Urdipelleta to thank, as he kicked five penalties and converted Silvere Tian’s try 10 minutes from time as they racked up 22 points. The visitors managed only three penalties from James Hook in reply.
But the plastic city side are stuck in 13th in the league as Bayonne gave Stade Francais a scare at Stade Jean Bouin. It was 10-9 at halftime, as Martin Bustos-Moyano kept the visitors in touch after Julian Arias had scored a 15th-minute try. It stayed 10-9 until the 76th minute, when replacement Jerome Pericol coolly slotted the decisive penalty.
Montpellier moved up to second with a 25-18 home victory over Grenoble. The home side demonstrated most of the flair – but struggled to break through the visitors’ well-organised defence. In the end, Mamuka Gorgodze’s first-half try proved the difference, while James Hart kicked the penalty four minutes from time that ensured Grenoble headed home with a bonus point.
Brock James was the hero for Clermont, as his last-kick-of-the-game drop goal earned them a 22-22 draw at Castres’ Stade Pierre Antoine – where they haven’t won for 37 years.
The home side’s scrum-half Rory Kockott, who may end up playing for France sooner rather than later, scored all their points, contributing a try – which he converted – and five penalties. But James matched the South African point-for-point with the boot, while Julian Bardy scored for Clermont in the second period as the two sides were forced to share the points.
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