CASTRES, FRANCE – The Top 14 did its best to recreate the glorious mayhem of the final weekend of the RBS 6 Nations.
The number of tries – 28 – was low for the weekend’s seven matches, and the 302-point combined total wasn’t overly impressive, but at least five of the seven matches left journalists with a tasty pick-and-mix of headlines to choose from.
Sexton and Machenaud lift Racing
You would not have predicted the juicy Top 14 morsels on offer if you had been forced to endure the snorefest of the weekend’s opening match between Bayonne and Racing Metro that had sports writers scratching their heads for something – anything – positive to say.
The Irish fly-half kicked the visitors into an early lead with two first-half penalties on a miserable night in southwest France. Martin Bustos Moyano kept Bayonne in the hunt with a solitary reply seven minutes before halftime.
The visitors were unable to make the most of a numerical advantage when Bayonne fullback Scott Spedding was sin-binned 10 minutes into the second period. And it seemed the blueblood Franciliens had blown their chance when Bustos Moyano kicked the hosts level with 15 minutes left on the clock.
But the Argentinian, who last week broke Castres’ hearts with a match-winning after-the-hooter penalty, missed a chance to take Bayonne into the lead – and Racing’s replacement scrum-half Maxime Machenaud slotted two penalties in the final eight minutes to give the visitors a scarcely deserved and barely watchable 12-6 win on the road.
Tian shines as Oyonnax hang on to play-off dream
Feisty winger Silvere Tian ran in two tries in nine second-half minutes as Oyonnax slipped back into the play-off places with a 24-3 win over Brive at Stade Charles Mathon.
His first, on 53 minutes, owed much to some fine work from his forwards, who battered their way towards the Brive line. Quick ball from a ruck under the posts opened up the stretched defence, and Tian found the perfect line.
Oyonnax were already 12-0 up before Tian went over, thanks to the boot of Benjamin Urdapilleta – and they could arguably have been further ahead, such was their stranglehold on the game. Viliami Maafu had crossed in the first half, but his try was disallowed.
It took him an hour, but Gaetan Germain finally found his range to kick Brive’s only points of the match with a penalty, after he had missed two penalties in the opening period.
Oyonnax and Tian had the last word three minutes later as an innocuous kick ahead developed teeth. A deflection off a Brive hand meant offside Oyonnax players were suddenly back in the game. A hack ahead, a pick-up-and-drive and an offload to the flying Tian and it was all over bar the conversion.
Lowly La Rochelle rock Bordeaux
Fly-half Fabien Fortassin kicked 17 points as La Rochelle resisted a Bordeaux fightback to claim a vital 22-21 away win – their first this season – at the business end of the Top 14 campaign.
Anyone watching could have been forgiven for wondering if the two sides had agreed to swap kits. Relegation-threatened La Rochelle played with the free-flowing devil-may-care style of the hosts, while play-off-chasing Bordeaux looked more like a side that were away from home and hadn’t won on the road all season.
The Rochelais’ hooker Hikairo Forbes blundered over from close range to open the try-scoring count with less-than 10 minutes left in the opening half. But that’s just a fraction of the story. Fifteen seconds earlier, La Rochelle won a smart lineout inside their own half. A well-judged kick-and-chase split Bordeaux’s defence and – although the visitors were briefly held up a matter of inches from the line – a score was inevitable.
The try put the visitors 16-0 up with five minutes of the first-half left to play, and although Pierre Bernard, on as a replacement for Lionel Beauxis, reduced the deficit shortly before the break, the visitors were in control.
Fortassin added two more penalties in the second period. His second – on 69 minutes – proved decisive as Bordeaux roared back.
Sofiane Guitoune – who had earlier hauled in Sereli Bobo to deny La Rochelle a second try – gave the hosts a glimmer of hope with a well-worked score that reminded the crowd just what Bordeaux are capable of.
But they were unable to breach the visitors’ defence again until it was too late. Three minutes from time, centre Levani Botia was red-carded – but it took the hosts almost all those three minutes to make the most of the numerical advantage. Metuisela Talebula was the beneficiary as he dived over in the corner as the hooter sounded.
Trinh-Duc kickstarts Montpellier in Lyon rout
Francois Trinh-Duc reminded Montpellier of what they have been missing in the months he has been out with injury as he guided the Herault side to a 45-17 win over Lyon.
The fly-half scored the opening try of the game after four minutes, bursting through Lyon’s hapless defence to finish the first serious assault on the visitors’ line. He sliced Lyon wide open again a second time to give Robert Ebersohn an easy run-in four minutes later.
Trinh-Duc was involved – again – in Montpellier’s third try, finished off by Fulgence Ouedraogo, who slammed on to a perfect pass from Benjamin Paillaugue to score. Three tries for Montpellier, with just 25 minutes on the clock – and the scoring was a long way from over.
Defiant Lyon found an answer on 30 minutes, when prop Emmanuel Felsina crashed over following a training-ground lineout move. But any hope of a fightback was snuffed out three minutes later as Montpellier winger Yohann Artru pinballed his way through Lyon’s broken defence to score the fifth – and final – try of the opening period.
And when Ricky Januarie, who replaced starting scrum-half Mathieu Loree after 53 minutes, was saw red for stamping after 54 minutes, Lyon’s mission impossible became even more difficult.
With 10 minutes to go, Montpellier’s forwards speed-mauled their way to the Lyon line. They were stopped just shy of the whitewash – illegally. The referee had no hesitation in awarding a penalty try. Four minutes later, replacement Wynand Olivier made the most of the wide-open spaces left by the shattered 14 men of Lyon to wind-up the try-scoring.
Castres stay alive with Grenoble win
Castres’ hopes of staying in the Top 14 hang by a slightly stronger thread after they beat Grenoble 16-12 at Stade des Alpes to pick up their first regular-season win on the road since December 2012.
Castres welcomed back Rory Kockott and Remi Tales from 6 Nations duty, while Remi Lamerat, Geoffrey Palis and Sitiveni Sivivatu were among those returning from injury.
It was the latter who opened the scoring after just three minutes, while an unlikely 50m drop goal from Kockott gave the visitors a 10-0 lead. Castres were aided and abetted by Grenoble’s usually reliable Jonathan Wisniewski, who missed four first-half penalties.
Wisniewski found his kicking boots in the dressing room at halftime, and slotted four second-half kicks at goal as the hosts dominated the second half. Only never-say-die Castres’ defence prevented two tries, as Grenoble’s forwards were twice held up over the line.
The visitors played half the second period with 14 men, as first Tales and then Kockott were yellow-carded, but two penalties – the first for the scrum-half and the second a long-range effort from Palis three minutes from time – ensured that the final score read 16-12 in favour of the visitors.
Stade hammer Clermont in tryfest
Stade Francais closed the gap on second-placed Clermont with a thrilling 40-26 win at Stade Jean-Bouin.
The Parisians ran in five tries to Clermont’s four to keep alive their hopes of an all-important top-two finish and a week off in the end-of-season play-offs.
Stade raced into an early lead as Waisale Nayacalevu rounded off a sweeping move that started with the vision of Djibril Camara inside the host’s own 22.
Although Peceli Yato put Clermont on the scoreboard after a quarter of an hour, Stade restored their 10-point lead just three minutes later when centre Jonathan Danty sliced through the visitors’ defence for his fifth try of the season.
Stade finished the half with a flourish, as Samoan prop Sakaria Taulafo flopped over from a rolling maul for a 27-7 advantage at the break.
Clermont briefly threatened a comeback as Naipolioni Nalaga scored twice to cut the gap to eight points, and demonstrate what the Jaunards will be missing when he joins Toulon at the end of the season.
But, on the hour, Danty launched a devastating, resistance-ending counter-attack which only finished when winger Julian Arias latched on to Jules Plisson’s perfect crossfield kick to touch down.
Six minutes from time, Stade sealed the win with their fifth try, courtesy of replacement hooker Laurent Sempere, before Sebastien Vahaamahina grabbed a late consolation for Clermont.
Toulouse shatter Toulon hoodoo
Like England v France in the final weekend of the 6 Nations, we’ve saved the best for last, as Toulouse staged one of the great Top 14 comebacks to beat Toulon for the first time at Stade Velodrome.
The 34-24 final score gives little indication of the drama that unfolded in Toulon’s Marseille-based home-away-from-home, where they have lost only once – against Cardiff in the Amlin Cup final in 2010.
Toulon led 18-7 at halftime, courtesy of two tries from the increasingly impressive Fijian 21-year-old Josua Tuisova – who joined the Var side as a raw recruit two years ago and would qualify to play for France on residency grounds next year.
His second try, when he ran around, past, and through a trio of Toulouse defenders demonstrated his power and finesse. It had His Imperial Galactic Majesty Lord Sir Jonny of Wilkinson grinning in impressed delight from the dugout.
Toulon were in full control in the opening 30 minutes – even though Freddie Michalak, in the side for the first time since November, was mercurially wayward with the boot. They were even within a boot-width of scoring from the kick-off, as lock monster Romain Taofifenua dived over the line – only for the score to be ruled out as he had a foot in touch.
Toulouse should have been out of it. They lost Corey Flynn for 10 minutes in the opening quarter as they defended desperately and illegally, while Joe Tekori could easily have been carded three times in the first half.
But Jean Marc Doussain burst free to score an unexpected try two minutes before the break. It wasn’t a sucker-punch – that would come with a three-try combo in the second half – but it got Toulouse on the board when they weren’t even in the game.
Two minutes into the second-half, they were, when Maxime Medard cut back inside to find no defenders in front of him. It was too good an opportunity to pass up, so he didn’t.
Still Toulon had the winning hand – until seven minutes from time, when Vincent Clerc backed himself to take on David Smith on the outside. He fended off Smith’s weak tackle and offloaded to Jano Vermaak, who passed to Medard to run in under the posts for his second.
Three minutes later, the roles were reversed and the comeback complete, as Medard turned provider to allow Vermaak to score.
Feel free to add your thoughts below. And please look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@: RugbyWrapUp, James Harrington, Scheenagh Harrington, Junoir Blaber, Nick Hall, Jamie Wall, DJ Eberle, Cody Kuxmann, Jake Frechette, Jaime Loyd, Karen Ritter and Declan Yeats, respectively.