CASTRES, FRANCE – Montpellier, Clermont and Grenoble were good; Castres, Racing Metro and Toulouse were bad; and Toulon were ugly.
Castres’ unbeaten run against Montpellier, which included May’s epic extra-time win in the end-of-season play-off semi-finals came to shuddering 43-10 halt on Friday evening.
The game was as good as over after 11 minutes, when Castres’ new number 8 Johnnie Beattie – a Montpellier man for the past two seasons – was shown a straight red card for a clumsily dangerous shoulder challenge on Timoci Nagusa. The challenge ended Nagusa’s game, and left the visitors to play out 69 minutes against Montpellier’s not-particularly-lean-but-definitely-very-mean scrummaging machine.
Castres were already 8-0 behind at the time, courtesy of a Francois Trinh-Duc penalty and a try for flanker Kelian Gellatier as the Herault ran the full range of sweeping, defence-slicing moves from the whistle.
It wasn’t about to get much better for the 2013 champions.
Fabien Galthie’s side have added cold steel to their red-hot style this season, and – in the first half at least – took every chance to make Castres pay. Easy points were rejected in favour of try-hunting killer kicks to touch and brutal scrums.
And how Montpellier’s devastating pack punished Castres’ weakened unit. First, back row Ben Mowen blunderbussed his way through what can only be called a defence because there’s no other word for it in a classic training ground lineout catch-and-drive move.
Then lock Sitaleki Timani added five points courtesy of another pack move before any of the backs got in on the try-scoring act. Scrum-half Jonathan Pelissie wrapped up the first half’s battering with a soul-destroying near-length-of-the-pitch try after a rare threatening Castres attack broke down just outside Montpellier’s 22. That score made it 29-3.
There was worse to come for Castres.
Winger Marcel Garvey saw yellow after taking out Nagusa’s replacement Pierre Berard in the air on the stroke of halftime. At first glance, it seemed that this challenge was worse than Beattie’s, but the referee decided it merited only 10 minutes in the bin.
The visitors finally altered their gameplan in the second period. Run-it-minded fly-half Dan Kirkpatrick kicked more, as Castres gave up their usual attack-from-anywhere style in favour of a positional, tactical game.
It worked. For a while.
Another Castres new boy, Julien Dumora, crossed Montpellier’s whitewash nine minutes after the restart as the wounded visitors snarled and spat. The hosts were briefly unsure of how to deal with them. At 29-10 down after an hour, the result was never in doubt, but – for the first 25 minutes of the second half, Castres gave the home side a pride-filled working over.
But, with 12 minutes to go, they had nothing left. Their dead-on-its-feet pack conceded a penalty try, and Robert Ebersohn completed the six-try rout with two minutes left on the clock.
Brive put the past two weeks’ defeats in the Top 14 behind them with a 26-19 home win against an out-of-sorts Toulouse.
Guy Noves, who is up before the Ligue National de Rugby beaks this week over that Florian Fritz incident in last season’s play-off quarter-final against Racing Metro, looked like a man with rather more on his mind than the match in front of him as his side laboured and lumbered around Stade Amedee Domenech, chasing Correze shadows.
Arnaud Mignardi touched down and Gaetan Germain kicked Brive into a 19-9 lead by the time the clock ticked past the hour before Toulouse finally got their act together.
Then it all got unnecessarily nervy for the hosts, as first replacement Edwin Maka touched down out of nowhere, and Toby Flood – who had earlier been sin-binned for a dangerous tackle – dragged the visitors back to level terms.
But, with seven minutes to go, Brive fans – who had been holding their breaths for 10 minutes blew out a huge sigh of collective relief as Benito Masilevu scored the try that gave the home side a deserved 26-19 win.
Clermont’s man mountain Jamie Cudmore celebrated his 36th birthday in style, by helping the Jaunards to a dominant 32-6 win over Racing Metro that may not have completely rebuilt Fortress Marcel Michelin, but will have proved to visiting sides that it won’t be easy to repeat the recent trick pulled off by Castres and Montpellier.
There was no sign of the stuttering nervousness that has been evident in Clermont’s opening Top 14 games at home this season. This was brutal, clinical stuff.
Aurelien Rougerie ran in two tries either side of halftime, while forwards Davit Zirakashvili and Alexandre Lapandry both crossed in the opening 40 minutes to put the game beyond doubt.
Johan Goosen was the only visiting player to get on the scoresheet, but his 56m drop goal was just about worth the entrance fee for Racing fans desperate to salvage some pride from what was a pretty dismal day.
Grenoble moved up to fifth in the Top 14 with a 30-12 win over La Rochelle at Stade des Alpes. Fly-half Jonathan Wisniewski scored 20 of the hosts’ points, including a late try, as the Isere side made short work of the bottom-of-the-table visitors.
He was joined on the scoresheet by Charl McLeod – who crossed the line with just two minutes on the clock – and Ratu Ratini, while Julien Audy landed four penalties for the Rochelais.
Lyon and Oyonnax played out an epic 26-23 encounter at the Matmut Stadium. Tries from Toby Arnold and Deon Fourie in five second-half minutes, when the visitors were reduced to 14 men, were the deciding factor, as the hosts came back from 13-9 down at halftime to scrape their second win in as many weeks.
Earlier, Damian Browne had given the visitors a deserved lead, while Lachie Munro and Benjamin Urdapilleta traded kicks. But those two tries – while Olivier Missoup was in the sin-bin – meant Regis Lespinas’s 80th-minute converted effort could only give the visitors a defensive bonus point.
Stade Francais ran in five tries to Bayonne’s two – but the boot of Blair Stewart meant that, with 15 minutes left on the clock, the high-and-mighty Parisians were chasing the game.
This was a very different Bayonne to the side that looked like it didn’t know what a rugby pitch was when they turned out against Castres last weekend.
The game got off to a flyer, with the visitors’ prop Aretz Iguiniz and the hosts’ captain marvel Sergio Parisse trading converted tries in the opening 10 minutes. Scores from French internationals Antoine Burban and Rabah Slimani gave the hosts a 17-10 halftime lead.
But Stewart kicked Bayonne back into the lead after 63 minutes. Stade needed tries from replacements Waisale Nayacalevu and Julien Dupuy to give them a seemingly unassailable lead. But the visitors still weren’t done. Scott Spedding raced over for a converted try with five minutes remaining, but Stade held on for the win.
Toulon’s Saturday evening encounter against Bordeaux held the promise of a free-flowing, high-scoring game between two of the most try-hungry teams in the Top 14. In the end, they managed one score between them, from Bordeaux centre Julien Rey, as the Var side won ugly.
Freddie Michalak scored all Toulon’s 18 points, as the hosts seemed satisfied just to hold Bordeaux at bay and pick up points with the boot. And yellow cards for the visitors Clement Maynadier and Patrick Toetu meant that, in the end, it was a straightforward job for Toulon to claim an 18-13 win. Dull, but straightforward.
That’s it for now. Feel free to comment below, please look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@ :RugbyWrapUp, Junoir Blaber, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Jamie Wall, Jaime Loyd, DJ Eberle, Cody Kuxmann, Karen Ritter, Jake Frechette and Declan Yeats, respectively.