CASTRES, FRANCE – The capricious and contrary Top 14 went completely crazy this weekend.
Forty-one tries were scored in seven games – 27 of them in three astonishing matches. Racing Metro v Brive featured 11 of them, while Clermont shipped six at Bordeaux, and Castres – who have found conceding tries easier than scoring them so far this season – ran in seven against Grenoble. And Toulouse won, too.
Toulon’s victory over Oyonnax on Friday night had seen them overtake Clermont at the head of the Top 14 when the Jaunards took to the field at Bordeaux’s Stade Chaban-Delmas. They arrived boasting the best defence in the league – until Oyonnax’s late, late try the previous weekend, they had not allowed any side across their line since the first match of the season. Their scrum was without equal. Their attack was second only to Toulon. Their kicking prowess was only bettered by Bordeaux.
As it turned out, none of that meant anything. Bordeaux combined beautiful rugby with a cutting edge so lethally sharp that didn’t so much rip Clermont apart as slice them open. Regional newspaper La Depeche was most succinct in its praise when it nominated “all 23 Bordeaux players” for the man of the match award. And no wonder.
If Romain Lonca’s 12th-minute try came as a bit of a surprise, given Clermont’s miserly defence, it was nothing compared to the wonderful shocks to come.
Pierre Bernard and Berend Botha added two more in the first half, as the home side made a mockery of the visitors’ proud stats. By the time the referee called a halt to the opening period, the home side were 24-9 up. And jaws up and down France were on the floor at the unadulterated killer joy of Bordeaux’s performance.
Naipolioni Nalaga briefly threatened to bring the Begles’ back down to Earth with a bump as he crossed the hosts’ line 15 minutes into the second half to give Clermont a fleeting outside chance of a comeback.
But the door was firmly and finally shut in their faces seven minutes later as Metuisela Talebula found another way through Clermont’s now shattered defence. Clement Maynadier and Jan Andre Marais would also break through before Thierry Lacrampe finally, weakly answered back. It’s not as if his try improved the 51-21 final score much.
It is a measure of how good Clermont’s defence has been, however, that despite the scoreline, they have still conceded fewer points than any other side in the Top 14.
Castres leaped four places to the heady heights of 10th thanks to a seven-try demolition of Grenoble. Stade Pierre Antoine was silenced only twice in 80 minutes after Remi Lamerat had opened the scoring with 30 seconds on the clock.
The first time was when Grenoble were awarded a penalty try 11 minutes in the second half. It was more surprise than anything else, as Castres had already scored five times. The second time came when replacement flanker Mahamadou Diaby suffered a serious injury as he landed badly in a tackle, and shattered a bone his arm.
Replays on the big screen stunned the crowd, before warm and spontaneous applause followed the player into the tunnel as he was carried from the field. Unfortunately, that injury meant Grenoble had to finish the game with 14 players.
It was a result – and a performance – that the 2013 champions’ fans had demanded. Coming into the game, Castres had conceded 20 tries in seven matches, and scored just 10.
Lamerat’s express try was followed by two in quick succession for bulkhead prop Paea Faanunu late in the first half as the hosts took complete control.
France centre Lamerat then released his new Bleu colleague Rory Kockott to score in the corner a minute into the second half before Max Evans jogged over Grenoble’s line to finish off a move started 80m earlier when Romain Martial picked up a loose ball and raced through the visitors’ startled defence. Grenoble’s Ali Ratini managed to hunt Martial down eight metres from the line, but he was able to offload to Lamerat – inevitably – who simply shipped the ball to Evans for the score.
Replacements Marc-Antoine Rallier and Thomas Combazou added two late tries to complete the scoring for the hosts, as they matched Bordeaux point for point. It ended 51-10.
Racing Metro scored seven tries to Brive’s four in a 46-32 tryfest at Stade Yves du Manoir. The hosts aren’t noted for their try-scoring – having only managed 12 in the opening seven matches, and qualifying for the play-offs last season having crossed opponents’ whitewash just 32 times in 26 matches.
After this weekend’s match, they’ve scored 19 times in eight games. Teddy Thomas opened their account on 10 minutes; and Johan Goosen had also scored by the time Brive’s winger Benito Masilevu scored the first of his two tries.
There was still time for Francois Van der Merwe to score before the end of the first half.
The early part of the second half was all about Racing’s forwards. Flanker Camille Gerondeau and hooker Virgile Lacombe both touched down in the opening eight minutes, before lock Juandre Kruger finished off a remarkable move three minutes later.
Brive replacements Russlan Boukerou and Louis Acosta, and Masilevu – with his second – then dragged the visitors to within nine points with nine minutes to play. But Kruger scored his second a minute later to kill off any hopes the visitors had of leaving with an unlikely bonus point.
After five consecutive defeats, it was win or bust for Toulouse, as they welcomed Stade Francais to Stade Ernest Wallon. And win they did. But it wasn’t pretty.
Luke McAlister had kicked the hosts into a 12-3 halftime lead before Stade winger Jeremy Sinzelle and Toulouse’s forgotten centre Gael Fickou traded tries to take the score to 22-10 after 52 minutes. And that’s how it stayed. It was the very definition of an ugly win, but Toulouse were clearly willing to take the points and run – all the way to 11th in the Top 14 table.
Promoted pair La Rochelle and Lyon traded places in the table as the Rochelais picked up a try-scoring bonus in a 29-10 win at Stade Marcel Deflandre. Lyon failed to trouble the scoreboard for an hour before fullback Romain Loursac notched a penalty. He would convert replacement George Smith’s 80th-minute try to round off the scoring, but it would only add a thin veneer of respectability to the final score.
Hamish Gard and Julien Audy had touched down for La Rochelle in the first half, before fullback Kini Murimurivalu and flanker Romain Sazy both scored in four second-half minutes to take the hosts way out of sight.
Number 8 Ben Mowen was Montpellier’s hero as they edged a close encounter at Bayonne’s Stade Jean Dauger.
But they made life difficult for themselves. They were 15-3 up and cruising five minutes into the second half, after Mowen scored his second try. But Scott Spedding replied for the visitors five minutes later to take the score to 15-10. Montpellier held out in the scoreless, attritional battle of midfield wills that followed to return to the Herault with the win that moved them up into fourth place.
Benjamin Urdapilleta scored all Oyonnax’s points as they gave defending Top 14 champions Toulon a real scare at Stade Charles Mathon. But he’ll rue a couple of early missed kicks as the hosts lost a second match in a row at home.
As it was, he only nearly cancelled out tries from Juan Smith and Drew Mitchell and 11 points from James O’Connor – but his 18 points with the boot finished three shy of Toulon’s 21.
Worse for the hosts, they were four points ahead with 10 minutes remaining before Mitchell crossed.
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.