Once again, as a Top 14 season draws to a close, pundits’ best-laid predictions have been cast to at least three of the four winds.
Coming into the derby clash, Stade Francais were fifth in the table, while opponents Racing Metro were seventh. Stade were at home. They were playing much the better rugby of the two sides.
And then the rugby gods intervened.
First, they made Benjamin Fall leap high enough to intercept a pass from Morne Steyn that not only stopped a Stade Francais attack in its tracks, but also allowed him to race the length of the pitch to score. Then, they made sure lumbering lock Juandre Kruger was in the right place at the right time to flop over the line to score after 28 minutes.
Antoine Battut added a third try in the second half, which rendered Waisea Vuidravuwalu’s double for Stade moot as the visitors ran out 22-32 winners.
Fourth-placed Castres would surely win at Top 14 basement side Biarritz, who will be playing ProD2 rugby next season. They had a near complete set of internationals at their disposal, after all.
It didn’t happen that way.
Takudzwa Ngwenya ran through two weak tackles to score in the corner in the fifth minute. Dimitri Yachvili converted. And despite tries from Richie Gray and Remi Grosso in the first half, Biarritz went in at halftime 19-15 up. It looked, however, as if the visitors would be heading home with a win when flanker Jan Bornmann raced unopposed the length of the 22 to score 15 minutes into the second half.
But a late yellow card for replacement prop Mihaita Lazar cost the defending Top 14 champions dear. The seven-man pack couldn’t handle the pressure of Biarritz’s scrum and conceded a penalty try. Yachvili converted to level the scores at 34-34.
Oyonnax needed a win over Grenoble to keep their Top 14 survival hopes alive. And they were at home, where they have only lost twice all season. And home advantage counted as the side from the plastics city picked up their first attacking bonus point of the season with a 40-13 win. Silvere Tian, Ratu Soqeta, and Agustin Figuerola all scored in 12 second-half minutes, after they had picked up a penalty try in the opening period. Benjamin Urdipilleta did the rest of the damage.
Clermont welcomed back Wesley Fofana and Benjamin Kayser for the trip to Brive, who had lost two players to suspension following the previous weekend’s bad-tempered match at Castres, making Clermont comfortable favourites. But Gaetan Germain had other ideas. He scored 21 of the home side’s 26 points. Naipolioni Nalaga and Damien Chouly replied for the visitors, but it ended 26-24.
Montpellier easily beat Bayonne at home, 43-27. But, they didn’t have it all their own way. At 19-17, the game was very much in the balance at halftime before the hosts pulled away.
Timoci Nagusa scored a hat-trick for the home team. He was joined on the scoresheet by Mamuka Gorgodze and Alex Tulou, while the referee contributed a penalty try. In reply, Joe Rokocoko, Matthieu Ugalde and Lisiate Faaoso crossed for the visitors. Montpellier are currently at the head of the Top 14 table, but their defensive frailties will worry coach Fabien Galthie ahead of the regular season’s remaining three games.
Bordeaux are snapping at the heels of the teams in the play-off places. They’re seventh – level on points with Toulouse, in sixth, and Stade Francais, who dropped to eighth following their defeat to Racing. They cruised past Perpignan 23-8. Metuisela Talebula scored – of course – as did Felix le Bourhis, while Pierre Barnard added 13 with the boot.
Which just leaves Toulon v Toulouse at Stade Velodrome. Freddie Michalak started at 10 for the second game in a row and justified his selection by scoring 27 points as the Var side won 32-28. He was matched almost all the way by Toulouse’s Lionel Beauxis, who notched up 23.
By James Harrington (@blackmountained)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images