Top 14 Review: Toulon leave with nothing from Stade trip

Takudzwa Ngwenya scored for Biarritz against Top 14 opponents Bordeaux
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Takudzwa Ngwenya scored for Biarritz against Top 14 opponents Bordeaux
Takudzwa Ngwenya scored for Biarritz against Top 14 opponents Bordeaux
CASTRES, FRANCE – Aristotle, wise ancient Greek philosopher and proto-Yoda that he was, noted that ‘one swallow does not a summer make’. A 21st-century, rugby-loving Aristotle may adapt his 2,500-year-old proverb a little to read ‘two victories does not the Top 14 fortunes of Biarritz alter’.

After beating Racing Metro and Brive either side of French rugby’s two-week break for the November internationals, the Basque Country side came back down to earth with a 15-22 thump against Bordeaux at Parc des Sports Aguilera on Saturday.

Worse, they led 15-3 two minutes after halftime, thanks to tries from Dmitri Yachvili and USA Eagle Takudzwa Ngwenya. But they gave up three tries in 18 minutes as Laurence Deloub, spellchecker nightmare Metuisela Talebulamaijaina, and Julien Rey crossed for the visitors.

At least Biarritz picked up a defensive bonus point. Which is more than Toulon managed on their Parisian adventure against Stade Francais. In fact, scoring any points at all was beyond the stellar side from the city on the Mediterranean coast of south-east France.

Jules Plisson was again on fine form for Stade Francais
Jules Plisson was again on fine form for Stade Francais
The first 40 at Stade Jean Bouin was a dismal affair. It ended 3-0 – and the dolorous tolling of the half-time bell seemed wholly appropriate. Fortunately, Stade upped the ante in the second period, scoring 20 of their 23 points in the game. Jules Plisson and Geoffrey Doumayrou – on the brink of full-time – touched down, while Julien Dupuy and late replacement Morne Steyn knocked up 13 points between them with the boot.

With Jonny Wilkinson not playing and considering life after rugby, it wasn’t until Matt Giteau came on after 60 minutes to replace Freddie Michalak – who was in full-on miss-everything mercurial mode – that Toulon showed much in the way of attacking edge. By then, Stade were 16-0 up and it was far too late, and Doumayrou’s opportunistic try at the death simply rubbed salt in Mourad Boudjellal’s wounds.

Top 14 trio Clermont, Castres and Toulouse all benefited as Toulon slipped to fourth in the Top 14. Clermont moved into top spot with a thoroughly entertaining 23-30 victory over Perpignan at Stade Aime Giral on Friday.

The hosts’ forwards made the most of two yellow cards in the Clermont pack to win a penalty try late in the first half and cancel out an earlier score from inside centre Noa Nakaitaci.

Thierry Lacrampe and Soufiane Guitoune – whose mistake allowed Nakaitaci to score the opening try – then traded tries in the second period, before a combination of Julien Malzieu and replacement Brock James allowed the visitors to pull away in the final 10 minutes.

Castres, meanwhile, who hit the Top 14 headlines this week with their reported signing of winger Sitiveni Sivivatu from Clermont, moved into third courtesy of a six-tries-to-one 46-16 demolition of Bayonne at Stade Pierre Antoine.

The hosts played with flair and ambition from the outset, but there was no indication at halftime, when the score was 13-6, of what was to come. Romain Cabannes crossed in the first period before the floodgates opened in the second, with Daniel Kirkpatrick, Brice Dulin, Marc Antoine Rallier, Ibrahim Diarra and Romain Martial all touching down.

There was even time for Joe Rokocoko to score for a consolation try for the visitors as Top 14 champions Castres ran riot.

Gritty Grenoble beat Toulouse in Saturday's Top 14 encounter at a freezing Stade des Alpes
Gritty Grenoble beat Toulouse in Saturday’s Top 14 encounter at a freezing Stade des Alpes
Despite losing to Grenoble, Toulouse are second in the table, level on 36 points with Castres and just four behind Clermont, courtesy of a defensive bonus. Feisty Irish scrum-half James Hart was the hero of the Isere side, kicking 20 of their 25 points and keeping them in touch with the visitors until Julien Caminiti’s decisive try just after an hour.

Earlier, Hosea Gear and Maxime Medard had both scored early in the second period, as Toulouse briefly threatened to run away with the game – but Hart kept pegging the visitors back. Gear, in particular, will be rueing an embarrassing first-half knock-on in Grenoble’s in-goal area when all he had to do was touch down.

Oyonnax remain 13th and in danger of relegation, but moved level on points with 12th-placed Bayonne thanks to a 26-9 win over Brive, who will be nervously looking over their shoulder, as they are just three points out of danger in 11th.

It will be precisely no surprise that Benjamin Urdipilleta was tormentor in chief. He kicked seven penalties, while Silvere Tian touched down. Gaetan Germain kicked two penalties and Riaan Swanipoel a drop goal in reply for the visitors.

Five teams remain in contention for sixth place – and the final Top 14 play-off spot. Montpellier currently hold on to it, but they’re only four points ahead of Bordeaux in 10th, and three ahead of big-spenders Racing Metro.

Fabien Galthie’s side lost 17-12 at Racing’s Stade Yves du Manoir. Benjamin Fall’s 55th-minute try was the difference between the two sides, as Julien Pellisie and Francois Trinh-Duc cancelled out the four penalties of Maxime Marchenaud. Montpellier picked up a defensive bonus point that kept them in sixth – but only just. In a Top 14 season as tight as this one, it could be crucial.

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About James Harrington 196 Articles
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!"