It has taken 12 of 26 rounds in a ridiculously tight Top 14 season for the table to lose a touch of its congested look.
Before the weekend’s games, only five points separated the top 10 clubs. Now, only the top six are separated by a bonus-point win, while the difference between Toulon at the top and Racing Metro in 10th has stretched to nine points.
Chances are not even Racing were expecting much out of their visit to Clermont’s Stade Marcel Michelin – where the hosts were defending a 66-match winning streak – but they would have expected something better than the abject performance that saw them slip to a 47-14 defeat.
Clermont’s bonus-point win kept them level on points with Toulon, for whom Jonny Wilkinson kicked all the points in a relatively comfortable 15-9 home victory over Perpignan on Friday. Two late Perpignan penalties made for a nervy finish and meant the visitors headed home with a bonus point they probably just about deserved – if only for their hard work in defence.
Toulouse are also hanging on to Toulon’s tails thanks to a 14-3 victory at home over Oyonnax. It was a dour affair, that threatened to be decided by the boot until Yann David’s 74th-minute try that gave the scoreline a slightly flattering look.
The visitors remain stuck in the bottom two on 21 points and will now be looking nervously over their shoulders as Biarritz close in rapidly. The gap between the two bottom sides has been cut over the past two matches to just five points, or a bonus-point win.
The Basque Country side’s 14-9 win – thanks to Damien Traille’s 21st-minute touchdown – at Brive brought the hosts’ five-match winning streak at Stade Amadee Domenech to a shuddering halt.
That win will stand them in good stead for next week’s match against 11th-placed Bordeaux at Parc des Sports Aguilera. But Raphael Ibanez’s side are also riding a wave at the moment, with Saturday’s six-tries-to-two 45-23 mullering of Top 14 big spenders Stade Francais helping them move to within two points of Racing Metro in 10th.
Defending Top 14 champions Castres have benefited the most from this week’s results, as their 16-20 victory at Montpellier saw them leap five places to fifth. Geoffrey Palis, standing in for Brice Dulin who was on international duty, scored all Castres’ points, including the all-important try nine minutes before the final whistle.
Castres’ next Top 14 opponents, Bayonne, held their nerve to win a 24-21 squeaker against gritty Grenoble, with Martin Bustos-Moyano landing the crucial penalty in the 77th minute. Until his decisive kick, it had been a nip-tuck affair at Stade Jean Dauger.
By James Harrington (@blackmountained)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images