CASTRES, FRANCE – Lowly Oyonnax threw the Top 14 form book out of the window, across the street and into the river this weekend when they travelled to high-flying and unbeaten-at-home Racing Metro – and won.
Even the die-hardest of Oyonnax fans could not have seen this coming. Racing have won all four home games in the Top 14 this season, and are two-for-two following opening two matches of the European Rugby Champions Cup.
And they now seem to know exactly where the tryline is, too.
Teddy Thomas and Johan Goosen both scored as the hosts headed into the tunnel at halftime 14-9 to the good. Everything pointed, even then, to business as usual. Home win. Maybe even an attacking bonus point for the sparking and sparkling hosts.
But no one considered Oyonnax, their coach Christophe Urios, or the metronomic boot of Argentinian Benjamin Urdapilleta.
Urios’s star is on the rise. He has a fan in Mourad Boudjellal – who, according to rumours, may try to tempt the Oyonnax coach into a move to Toulon when Bernard Laporte’s contract comes to an end in 2016.
Oyonnax first stemmed Racing’s flow of points. Fourteen in the first half begat just three in the second as the Christophe Urios’s team fought and harried and chased. Urdapilleta had kept the visitors in touch with two penalties and a drop goal in the first period. He added four more in the second, as Oyonnax came from behind to win 21-17.
It was their second-ever Top 14 win, their first this season, and only the second time they have won at Racing Metro in their history.
The win wasn’t enough to take the visitors from the plastics city out of the relegation zone, but they moved above Castres – and have the bonus of a major morale-boost ahead of next week’s home match against La Rochelle.
Toulouse’s phoenix has emphatically risen from the ashes of the five-match losing streak that, not long ago, saw the most successful side in Top 14 history languishing in 13th place in the table.
When they headed to Lyon on Saturday, with two big Top 14 wins and two European Rugby Champions Cup victories in a row to their name, there was still one thing missing from the revival of Guy Noves’ side – a Top 14 away win. Their last was in February, when they beat already relegation-bound Biarritz at Parc des Sports Aguilera.
That on-the-road blot in Toulouse’s copybook was erased in a five try to two bonus-point win at the Matmut Stadium. Maxime Medard opened the visitors’ touchdown account after 11 minutes – and, although Fabrice Estebanez answered for the home side six minutes later, Vincent Clerc put the Toulousains firmly in command after 25 minutes.
Toby Flood converted both Toulouse’s first-half tries – and went on to have a perfect day with the boot, slotting all conversions and adding a brace of penalties.
Louis Picamoles dived over eight minutes into the second half to snuff out any lingering comeback hopes still flickering and sputtering in the hearts of home fans. Then Timoci Matanavou and Yannick Nyanga both touched down to make sure of the attacking bonus.
Lachie Munro’s score two minutes from time for the hosts was little more than a gesture of defiance from a beaten Lyon.
Prop Karlen Asieshvili and replacement Alfi Mafi scored the game’s only tries as the hosts recorded a much-needed 21-15 win, with Castres’ points coming from the boot of Geoffrey Palis and a drop goal from Cedric Garcia.
The visitors were denied a defensive bonus – and maybe more – when Rory Kockott, on as a second-half replacement after missing out on last week’s ERCC defeat to Leinster at Stade Pierre Antoine, first hit the crossbar with one long-range penalty then fired a second, easier, attempt wide of the upright.
The wheels appear to have temporarily come off for Montpellier, too. The Herault side slipped to their third defeat in a row as they slipped to a 21-15 loss at Top 14 strugglers La Rochelle.
The hosts had just one win in their last four matches, and the four points from this win – courtesy of tries from Alofa Alofa and Lekso Kaulashvili – has given them some much-needed breathing space.
Jules Le Bail slotted a crucial penalty seven minutes from time to deny Montpellier a defensive bonus.
Waisea Nayacalevu scored in each half for the hosts – but the bulk of the action came in the final 30 minutes. The first period had ended 11-9, with little indication of what was to come. But then Julien Arias and Nayacalevu both scored in six killer minutes midway through the second half.
Pierre Barnard, who scored all Bordeaux’s points, found a way through the Stade defence with seven minutes left on the clock – but Stade had the final word as Zurabi Zhvania scored on the hooter, and Jules Plisson converted.
The Paris side are now level on points with Clermont, who rested a number of key players for their trip to relegation-threatened Bayonne – and fell to a 24-13 defeat.
The visitors led 10-8 at halftime, after Naipolioni Nalaga and Martin Bustos Moyano had traded tries – but Clermont could only manage a Brock James penalty in the second period.
Bayonne’s at-the-top-of-his-game number eight Charles Ollivon scored the vital try eight minutes into the second half. It knocked the fight out of Clermont, and allowed the hosts to dictate the rest of the game. Bustos Moyano, Scott Spedding and replacement Christophe Loustalot shared kicking duties, each slotting penalties to punish the visitors every indiscretion.
Toulon took full advantage of Clermont’s slip to take pole position in the Top 14 with a nine-try 61-28 demolition of Grenoble on Sunday afternoon.
The Var side controlled the game from start to finish as they consigned last season’s seismic shock defeat at Stade Mayol to history.
Prop Alexandre Menini went over after just six minutes, and fellow forwards Bakkies Botha and Levan Chilachava had also touched down before Ali Ratini found an answer for Grenoble.
Ratini’s try, Jonathan Wisniewski’s boot, and early waywardness from Toulon debutant Nicolas Sanchez, who arrived as a medical joker for the injured Freddie Michalak in early October, ensured the visitors went in at halftime just 17-14 down.
But then, the floodgates opened. Delon Armitage scored the first of his two tries eight minutes into the second period – and, although Henry Vanderglas touched down four minutes later to keep Grenoble just about in the hunt, the writing was firmly on the Stade Mayol wall.
Replacement hooker Jean Charles Orioli scored after 61 minutes; and Juan Smith followed suit two minutes later.
Robinson Caire added a try-scoring howl of defiance for Grenoble, but Toulon scored three more times in the closing 10 minutes, as Armitage touched down again, before being joined on the scoresheet by Bryan Habana and Maxime Mermoz.
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