CASTRES, FRANCE – It was all about the boot in this by-popular-demand one-week-only special return of French rugby’s Top 14 after the autumn internationals and before the European Rugby competitions kick off again next weekend.
Toulouse’s six-match winning streak came to a surprise end, as Grenoble – whipping boys at Stade Ernest Wallon for the past two seasons – won the weekend’s big battle of the boot 22-25.
Gio Aplon crossed for the visitors with 12 minutes on the clock. Much-travelled Top 14 misfit Alexis Palisson, who has played for Brive, Toulon and Toulouse in a nine-year career that has included a 21 international caps, cancelled out his try early in the second period.
But the game hinged on the accuracy of the kickers. Jean Marc Doussain – handed penalty duties despite the presence of Toby Flood at 10 – slotted five and a conversion for the hosts, while Jonathan Wisniewski nailed four and a conversion for the visitors. But it was James Hart, who landed two kicks around the 50-minute mark while Wisniewski was in the bin, who made the difference.
A kicker was the hero for Oyonnax, too, as they beat Bordeaux 28-23 despite losing the try-count two-one and being 13-23 down at halftime.
Darly Domvo and Felix Le Bourhis both scored for the Begles in the opening 40, while Yves Donguy replied for the hosts. But it was Benjamin Urdapilleta’s metronomic boot that dragged the hosts back into the game. He converted Donguy’s try and landed seven penalties – included five unanswered shots at goal in the second period – to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
Urdapilleta’s contract at Oyonnax is up at the end of the season. What’s the betting a number of sides are looking his way with interest? His Castres-bound boss at Oyonnax, Christophe Urios, will – no doubt – be paying special attention, as his new club will be one Remi Tales short next season.
Gaeten Germain very nearly pulled off Urdapilleta-level heroics for Brive – but he could not quite bring Stade Francais’ perfect Top 14 home record to an end.
Germain kicked four penalties, while replacement prop Karlen Asieshvili scored a late try, as the Correze side gave the Parisians a real scare – but, despite roaring back from 17-6 down at halftime, the visitors had only a defensive bonus point to take home as they came up three points short, losing 20-17.
It had seemed all over bar the shouting at the end of the opening period. By then, Stade had crossed Brive’s line three times, courtesy of Meyer Bosman, Waisale Nayacalevu and replacement prop Zurabi Zhvania – who was only on the Stade Jean Bouin pitch for 10 minutes while Sakaria Taulafo was in the sin-bin.
But scrum-half Julien Dupuy could only convert one of the tries – which meant his 53rd-minute penalty would turn out to be the crucial score.
Reigning Top 14 champions Toulon will head to Leicester for next week’s European Rugby Champions Cup clash full of confidence after beating Clermont 27-19 at Nice’s Allianz Riviera, to overtake the Jaunards at the top of the table.
Winger David Smith and centre Maxime Mermoz scored for the hosts at their home-away-from-home in the capital of the Alpes-Maritimes department, while Fritz Lee split the Toulon scores with a try of his own.
The visitors threatened a second-half comeback – and even briefly went ahead as Aurelien Rougerie touched down with 20 minutes to play. But Smith’s second try, converted by Nicolas Sanchez, France’s tormenter in chief while in Argentinien colours last week, quickly ended any Clermont hopes.
Castres plunged to the foot of the table again as they lost their first Top 14 match at Stade Pierre Antoine since December 2012. They were outsmarted and outplayed by a well-drilled Racing Metro side that headed to the Tarn with just one aim in mind – to win at all costs.
It was an ugly encounter, but while Racing were street-smart in both defence and attack, Castres tried to run the ball from everywhere. It was a naive and – compared to Racing – dim-witted tactic, and their cause was not helped by sloppy handling and indiscipline, as they slipped to a 14-9 defeat.
In fact, it could have been worse. Racing’s Johan Goosen landed two penalties and a drop goal, but missed three more shots at goal, including a conversion attempt after Wenceslas Lauret dived over to score the only try of the game following an simple yet crushingly effective training ground lineout move.
Rory Kockott scored all Castres’ points with the boot, and made sure, at least, the home side picked up a defensive bonus point by slotting a penalty after the hooter. He had earlier missed two penalties, and Remi Tales fired a drop goal attempt just wide, on a strangely muted night at Pierre Antoine.
Montpellier’s continuing backroom problems contributed to their fifth defeat in a row in all competitions. They were seven points ahead with 15 minutes left on the clock of an ill-tempered match at Top 14 new boys Lyon, courtesy of a penalty try on the hooter at the end of the first half, and scrum-half Teddy Iribaren’s touchdown four minutes into the second.
But they allowed Lyon back into the game, as first replacement flanker Juan Leguizamon and then winger Mosese Ratuvou crossed to complement a first-half penalty try of their own to allow the hosts to squeeze past the Herault side 23-20. It was Lyon’s fifth win of the Top 14 season, and came even though they had three players sin-binned – and played six minutes of the second half with just 13 men.
La Rochelle and Bayonne played out a 19-19 draw at Stade Marcel Deflandre.
The hosts were 13-6 to the good at the break after being awarded a penalty try, which scrum-half Julien Audy converted before adding a penalty while fellow half-back Jules Lebail also slotted a three-pointer.
But, Bayonne fought back in the second period. Number 8 Charles Ollivon bullocked home five minutes after the restart. Martin Bustos Moyano, who came on as a replacement for Blair Stewart after just 27 minutes added the conversion and three more penalties to earn the visitors a share of the spoils.
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