PARIS, FRANCE – The Top 14 is cruel. Last season, penalties in the final 10 minutes of two matches decided Perpignan’s fate. This season, Bordeaux’s play-off dream rested on the very last kick of the very last game of the regular season.
But Lionel Beauxis fired a relatively straightforward kick wide of the posts. How ironic that a kick should be so decisive on a day in which 42 tries were scored in seven matches – more than any other single weekend of this Top 14 season. Who says that scheduling the final round of fixtures at the same time on the same day doesn’t add to the drama?
His miss gifted the last play-off spot to Oyonnax. The unfashionable Top 14 side from the Ain escaped relegation on points difference last season. Now, they are looking forward to a play-off quarter-final against Toulouse. The winner of that match will face Clermont in the second semi-final – which will be played at Bordeaux’s new stadium.
Toulon, meanwhile, will await the winner of Friday’s Paris derby between Stade Francais and Racing Metro.
Bordeaux’s disappointment is at least tempered by the fact they have one more chance to qualify for next season’s European Champions Cup, courtesy of a play-off against Aviva Premiership side and Challenge Cup winners Gloucester at Worcester’s Sixways Stadium.
There is no such consolation for Bayonne. The Basque Country side did everything they could to avoid relegation by picking up a bonus-point victory at home to La Rochelle. But their fate was ultimately decided at faraway Lyon, where Grenoble clung-on for the final five desperate minutes to claim a crucial defensive bonus point.
Seven-try win not enough for Bayonne
Bayonne 45 La Rochelle 12
Bayonne brought La Rochelle’s nine-match survival-clinching unbeaten run in the Top 14 to a shuddering seven-try halt. But the big win was not enough, as Grenoble’s defensive bonus point and Brive’s big win over Stade Francais meant that the Basque Country side will join Lyon in the ProD2 next season.
In the end, points difference alone condemned Bayonne, who finished the season level on points with 12-placed Castres.
It was 19-7 at halftime, with Guillaume Rouet, Charles Ollivon and Jean Monribot all crossing for the hosts, while Julien Berger scored for La Rochelle.
Bayonne scored four more tries – through Lucas Pointud, Joe Rokocoko, Christophe Loustalot and Marvin O’Connor – before Alofa Alofa had the final word for the visitors with just two minutes left on the clock.
Speaking after the match, O’Connor said: “In my four seasons here, this has been our best in terms of performance – but it is also the one in which we have been relegated.”
And the difficulty is not over for Bayonne. Serious doubts now rest on whether next season signings, including Crusaders’ Tom Taylor and Leicester’s Mathew Tait, will join the club after all.
Brive complete great escape
Brive 27 Stade Francais 0
Stade Francais headed to Brive with the scent of automatic semi-final qualification in their nostrils. But it was the relegation-threatened Correze side who played like play-off contenders, while the Parisian aristocrats – not to put too fine a point on it – froze as their ambition overwhelmed them.
The scoring was done and dusted shortly after the hour. A first-half try from Sisa Koyamaibole, followed by three second-half scores courtesy of Arnaud Mignardi, Malakai Radikedike and Riaan Swanepoel, was more than enough for the home side.
Stade now enter the knockout phase of the Top 14 with a home quarter-final against neighbours Racing Metro, who they have already beaten twice this season.
Grenoble hang on as Nallet calls time on career
Lyon 29 Grenoble 24
The chances always were that Grenoble would survive. They had a four-point advantage over Brive and were five points better off than Bayonne coming into the final weekend of the Top 14.
But, if any of the three teams finished level on 52 points, Fabrice Landreau’s side would be relegated.
The drop was a niggling back-of-the-mind worry as Grenoble – sixth in the Top 14 just two months ago – headed to already relegated Lyon.
Charl Mcleod and Rory Grice touched down for the visitors while Romain Loursac and Deon Fourie crossed for the hosts in a thrill-a-minute first half. But, with 14 minutes to go, the visitors were a point ahead and the fear of relegation was fading.
Then, Lyon’s Lachie Munro fired over a penalty to give Lyon the lead. And, with five minutes remaining, he slotted a drop goal to push the hosts five points ahead. Suddenly, with both Brive and Bayonne winning big, Grenoble’s grip on the Top 14 was slipping.
They were still just five points adrift, and that meant a defensive bonus point, but if Lyon scored again, the visitors were down. Cue a tension-filled final five minutes.
Grenoble held on. But the celebrations, such as they were, belonged to Lyon, as they ended a difficult season on a final-day high and gave captain Lionel Nallet a winning send-off. It was no less than his 18-year career deserved.
Lyon are already plotting an immediate return to the top flight. On Sunday morning, less than 24 hours after the season ended, they confirmed the signing of 11 players, including Clermont’s Fijian winger Napolioni Nalaga – who they quickly snapped up after the plug was pulled on his planned move to Toulon.
Oyonnax in play-offs despite big loss at Toulon
Toulon 46 Oyonnax 17
Oyonnax’s outgoing sporting director Christophe Urios joked that he may plan his move to his new club to coincide with the Ain side’s play-off at Toulouse next weekend. Castres is just an hour up the road from the Rose City.
He was able to smile despite having just witnessed Toulon dismantle Oyonnax’s at Stade Mayol. The hosts had run in five of their six tries before the visitors crossed the whitewash for the first of their two.
The flood of scoring saw Toulon pass the 50-try mark for the season. Drew Mitchell scored a double in three first-half minutes, while Sebastien Tillous-Borde, the Racing Metro-bound Chris Masoe, and Bryan Habana added further scores before Jody Jenneker found a way through for the visitors with just nine minutes left on the clock.
There was still time for Alexandre Menini and Jean-Francois Coux to exchange tries before the scoring came to an end as the hooter sounded.
Racing set up play-off derby
Racing Metro 53 Castres 10
Racing Metro brought a run of four defeats to an emphatic end and set up a play-off encounter against near-rivals Stade Francais with a 53-10 hammering of Castres, who had only pride to play for after ensuring Top 14 survival last weekend.
Castres started brightly, with hooker Marc-Antoine Rallier and scrum-half Rory Kockott both scoring in the opening quarter. But, an answering try – the first of a brace for Juan Imhoff – and the boot of Jonny Sexton kept the hosts in front.
That was as good as it was going to get for the visitors. Indiscipline cost them, with both Jannie Bornmann and Rallier both sin-binned as the play-off chasing hosts ran in five more tries. Teddy Thomas, Antonie Claassen, Alexandre Dumoulin and Luc Barba all scored, before Imhoff ran in his second in the final minute of the game.
All Racing eyes are now on next Friday’s play-off against Stade…
Beauxis’s nightmare return
Toulouse 23 Bordeaux 22
A return to Stade Ernest Wallon turned into a horror show for Lionel Beauxis. The former Toulouse man, whose career has been rejuvenated since he switched to Bordeaux, missed a last-minute penalty that would have earned the visitors victory and a place in the play-offs.
Instead, he could only put his head in his hands as he fired a relatively straightforward kick wide of the posts. Fourteen-man Toulouse held on for a further eight minutes to overtake Stade Francais and finish third in the table and set up a home play-off quarter-final against Oyonnax.
Tries for Francisco Gomez Kodela and Julien Rey put the visitors ahead, before Toulouse’s prop Census Johnston was sent off shortly after the half-hour following a clash with Metuisela Talebula.
But it was the home side who rallied after the red card. Yoann Huget and Sebastien Bezy hit back with tries in a remarkable 11-minute second-half spell that took Toulouse 23-15 clear.
It still wasn’t over. Bordeaux’s Blair Connor raced over from 30m with three minutes left and Beauxis converted to drag the visitors to within a single point. But the Bordeaux fly-half was less accurate with his last-chance 35m penalty after Toulouse’s under-pressure scrum was penalised.
Clermont book semi-final place
Montpellier 17 Clermont 26
Disciplined Clermont ensured their place in the Top 14 semi-finals with a clinical second-half performance in which they simply booted Montpellier out of the game.
The sides shared four tries in a frantic opening period, with Charles Geli and Kelian Galletier both going over for Montpellier inside the opening 16 minutes. But their tries were cancelled out as Clermont’s Fritz Lee and Jonathan Davies had both crossed before the match was 34 minutes old.
It was 14-17 at halftime, but four second-half penalties from Ludovic Radosavljevic and Morgan Parra saw the visitors move clear, with Montpellier only managing a single Ben Lucas three-pointer in reply.
Top 14 cruelty extends to ProD2…
It is common knowledge that Pau, or Section Paloise, to give them their Sunday name, have won promotion to the Top 14 as ProD2 champions. They were joined in promotion on Sunday by Agen courtesy of a 16-15 win over Mont-de-Marsan in the second-tier promotional play-off final.
Stade Montois were six points down with two minutes to play, when Julien Mirande touched down in the corner to give Emmanuel Saubusse a difficult conversion chance. His kick was straight and true – but directed just a matter of centimetres wide of the upright.
Feel free to comment below, look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@: RugbyWrapUp, James Harrington, Junoir Blaber, Jamie Wall, Nick Hall, DJ Eberle, Jake Frechette, Scheenagh Harrington, Jamie Loyd, Cody Kuxmann, Karen Ritter, Audrey Young, Akweley Okine and Declan Yeats, respectively.