Top 14 Review: Round 11

Remember this week’s Top 14 result, as it may turn out to be a decisive week, where only five points separate first from 10th. Yes, it was the week Toulon returned to the top of the table, Clermont scrambled a draw at Castres, and Bayonne picked up a potentially crucial bonus point at Stade… but it was also the week Racing Metro left Johnny Sexton on the bench – only to lose a close encounter at Biarritz.

After last Saturday’s horror show against Toulouse, Jonny Wilkinson this week remembered to pack his kicking boots for Bordeaux’s Friday night visit to Stade Mayol. He kicked four penalties, two drop goals and two conversions as Mourad Boudjellal’s side won 37-17.

It was 12-12 at the end of the first period, but Matt Giteau, Ali Williams and Delon Armitage all crossed the line for Toulon in the second half, while Metuisela Talebula scored for the visitors to deny the hosts the bonus.

That win meant Toulon leapfrogged Toulouse to go top of the table. And they stay there thanks to Brive, who extended their unbeaten home record to five games with a breathtaking start-to-finish performance against the former Top 14 leaders. The home side were denied an opening-minute try only by the video referee – but scored soon after as Guillaume Ribes barged over from close range. By the end of the first half, the hosts were 16-0 to the good.

Toulouse have been here before. Only last week they were 12-0 down at home to Toulon and still won. This time it was not to be. Gaetan Germain kicked three second-half penalties, which meant Yuann Huget’s 70th-minute try was a consolation, adding just a veneer of respectability to the 25-13 final scoreline.

If that result was a shock, it was nothing compared to the seismic events at Parc des Sports Aguilera as Biarritz, 11 points adrift at the bottom of the Top 14, came back from 0-6 down at halftime to beat Racing Metro 9-6 in an encounter that was almost as dour as the scoreline suggests. But, for the Basque side, it’s a case of never mind the quality, enjoy the victory. It may be too late for them to survive, but their fans will now be hoping they will not go down without a fight.

Oyonnax added Perpignan to the list of Top 14 sides that have left Stade Charles Mathon in defeat. Once again, they had the cool head and unerring boot of Benjamin Urdipelleta to thank, as he kicked five penalties and converted Silvere Tian’s try 10 minutes from time as they racked up 22 points. The visitors managed only three penalties from James Hook in reply.

But the plastic city side remain 13th in the league as Bayonne gave Stade Francais a scare at Stade Jean Bouin. It was 10-9 at halftime, and it stayed 10-9 until the 76th minute, when replacement Jerome Porical coolly slotted the decisive penalty.

Montpellier moved up to second with a 25-18 home victory over Grenoble. The home side struggled to break through the visitors’ well-organised defence, and in the end Mamuka Gorgodze’s first-half try proved the difference, while James Hart kicked the penalty four minutes from time that ensured Grenoble headed home with a bonus point.

Brock James was the hero for Clermont, as his last-kick-of-the-game drop goal earned them a 22-22 draw at Castres’ Stade Pierre Antoine – where they haven’t won for 37 years.

The home side’s scrum-half Rory Kockott, who may end up playing for France sooner rather than later, scored all their points, contributing a try – which he converted – and five penalties. But James matched the South African point-for-point with the boot, while Julian Bardy scored a try for Clermont in the second period.

Toulon 37 – 17 Bordeaux Begles
Castres 22 – 22 Clermont Auvergne
Brive 25 – 13 Toulouse
Biarritz 9 – 6 Racing Metro 92
US Oyonnax 22 – 9 Perpignan
Montpellier 25 – 18 Grenoble
Stade Francais 13 – 9 Bayonne

By James Harrington (@blackmountained)

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images