CASTRES, FRANCE – Our Top 14 Review saw Clermont move six points clear of the rest of the Top 14 as they racked up their 70th win in a row at their Stade Marcel Michelin fortress on Sunday.
Their victims this time were Oyonnax, who slipped back into the relegation zone on the back of the 33-19 defeat, but who put up more stern resistance than the final score suggests.
Noa Nakaitaci, Fritz Lee and Benjamin Kayser all touched down for the home side, but Les Jaunards were denied an attacking bonus by the spirited visitors, who breached their tryline twice – courtesy of Pierre Aguillon and Jody Jenneker.
Relegation rivals Bayonne, who had slumped into the Top 14’s bottom two last weekend following a bruising defeat against Oyonnax, benefited most from the result. They leapfrogged the side from the plastic city into the relative safety of 12th place with a well-deserved 21-13 home win over Toulouse.
The two sides traded tries in the opening period and – for a while – it looked as if the visitors would win on the road for the first time since May as they went in at halftime up 13-8. But, shortly after the hour, the evergreen Joe Rococoko found himself on the end of a perfect crossfield kick from Scott Spedding to touch down for the hosts, before Stephen Brett slotted a late penalty that denied the visitors a defensive bonus point.
Bayonne’s win came despite a rare off night for the usually reliable Martin Bustos Moyano, whose kicking radar was strangely off target. Not that they can relax. Just one point separates them from the drop zone – and they’re away from home again next week, at Perpignan.
Castres, even without injured duo Rory Kockott and Brice Dulin, came within seven minutes of extending their unbeaten Top 14 run to six games at Grenoble. But then Ratu alipate Ratini skipped beyond the reach of despairing tackles to break the Top 14 champions’ spirit at altitude at Stade des Alpes.
The 20-16 final score, however, ensured Castres headed home with a defensive bonus point, and held on to third in the Top 14.
Toulon could not take advantage of the huge favour done for them by both Bayonne and Grenoble. They had every chance to claim second spot in the league for themselves – if they could beat Racing Metro in Colombes.
They could not. For the first half, the two most expensively assembled sides in club rugby demonstrated what might happen when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. The paradox that has exercised the minds of some of the greatest scientists and philosophers for centuries was apparently solved at Yves du Manoir on Sunday, as the two powers cancelled one another out so effectively that almost precisely nothing happened. At all.
Jonny Sexton kicked two penalties and Jonny Wilkinson answered with one… but the crowd had to wait until the second half for any action of note. And it came only after Toulon were reduced to 14 men when Bakkies Botha was sent to the sin bin. The hosts took full advantage of the extra man, as Marc Andreu darted over in the corner to score the crucial try. Sexton missed the conversion but added a later penalty to make the final score a demoralising 14-3.
Toulon’s last two matches on the road have been in Paris – and each time they have headed back home with nothing.
Stade Francais made the most of the slip-ups of Toulouse, Toulon and Castres to move into second in the Top 14 with a 19-12 victory over Perpignan at Stade Jean Bouin. The hosts’ pack was the big difference between the two sides, shoving the increasingly beleaguered Catalan eight all over the park at will and winning the penalty try in the 31st minute that made the difference at the end of the game.
Even losing Julien Arias, Pascal Pape and David Attoub to the sin bin – Arias and Pape at the same time – made no difference as Perpignan were unable to take advantage.
Montpellier ended a Top 14 losing streak that stretched back more than a month with a six-try 48-22 victory against Biarritz. Mamuka Gorgodze and Alex Tulou both scored two tries, while Mickael Ivaldi and Timoci Nagusa also touched down.
US Eagle Takudzwa Ngwenya, John Pietersen and Erik Lund crossed for the visitors – who are now staring ProD2 rugby in the face next season as they are 12 points adrift at the foot of the Top 14.
Ninth-placed Bordeaux beat 10th-placed Brive 27-23 in a tension-fuelled five-try thriller at Stade Chaban Delmas. Jandre Marais’ double and the unerring boot of Pierre Barnard ensured that the home side ended up on top, despite the best efforts of the visitors’ Gaetan Germain, who scored a try, two conversions and three penalties.
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