Top 14 Review: Round 25

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Four teams are now battling it out for three play-off places in the Top 14, while another four teams are scrapping to avoid being dragged down to the Pro D2.

Toulon made certain of their place in the play-offs with a bonus-point victory over Perpignan at the Olympic Stadium in Barcelona. At the end of the game, the Perpignan players couldn’t seem to comprehend how they lost despite racking up 31 points against mighty Toulon.

The stats, however, don’t lie – and in this case they do tell the whole story. Perpignan scored three tries – courtesy of Joffrey Michel, Guilhem Guirado and Wandile Mjekevu. James Hook converted two and added four penalties.

But Toulon crossed the whitewash four times. Virgile Bruni and Steffon Armitage touched down in the first half, while Rudi Wulf scored twice in the second. Freddie Michalak converted all four, and added six penalties.

The 31-46 final score leaves Perpignan level on points with Oyonnax and Bayonne – and, with a trip to Clermont to come, staring down the barrel of relegation to the Pro D2.

The result also saw Toulon move back to the head of the Top 14, after Montpellier lost at Castres. Francois Trinh-Duc landed a penalty with the last kick of the game to make the final score 22-15 and ensure the visitors headed back home with at least a defensive bonus point.

The game’s only try came from a rare spark of ingenuity two minutes before the break, as Rodrigo Capo Ortega broke the gainline, slipped a pass to Rory Kockott, who was hunted down and stopped just short of the line – but his pass off the ground was picked up by Brice Dulin who skittered over the line.

Romain Teulet came on as a replacement for Dulin on the hour, and – in his last Top 14 game at Stade Pierre Antoine before he retires at the end of the season – slotted two penalties of his own to take his personal points tally for the club to 3,102.

Stade Francais and Bordeaux met at Stade Jean Bouin. Coming into the match, both had every chance of bagging a play-off place. They were just outside the top six, level on 59 points. After a 37-23 win that maintained their perfect home record at the Jean Bouin in the Top 14, Stade have opened a five-point gap over Bordeaux.

The game was all over bar the shouting by the time the referee signalled the end of the first half. By then, Waisea Vuidravuwalu had scored twice, while Antoine Burban and Djibril Camara had also touched down for the hosts. Clement Maynardier had replied for Bordeaux, but the score was 29-13 at halftime.

Stade are now level with Toulouse on 64 points, behind Guy Noves’ side – who occupy the final Top 14 play-off place only on points difference.

Toulouse have technology to thank for hanging on to sixth place. Without the video referee, they would likely have returned from Oyonnax with just a defensive bonus point to their name. As it was, what looked like a dead-certain second-half try for the hosts was denied by a the tiniest knock-on some considerable time earlier in the move.

The try was disallowed, which meant that Florian Denos’ first-half score would be the last time the hosts notched up a try in front of their home fans this season. His try was cancelled by Jean-Marc Doussain’s 48th-minute effort, while he and Benjamin Urdipilleta played tit-for-tat with the boot.

Replacement Lionel Beauxis did have a late chance to win the game for the visitors, but skewed his last-gasp penalty horribly wide. It ended 19-19, which did neither side many favours. Toulouse now have Stade breathing down their necks, while Oyonnax are still in the second relegation spot, despite having notched up a half-century of points in the Top 14 this season.

Grenoble blew a chance to open up a crucial gap between themselves and unlucky-for-some 13th place when they could only draw 21-21 at Stade Lesdiguières against relegation rivals Bayonne. Scores from Fabien Alexandre and Julien Camaniti cancelled out a brace of tries for the visitors’ Marvin O’Connor – which left James Hart and Martin Bustos Moyano to battle it out for boot supremacy.

Neither could get the upper hand. It has left Grenoble in 10th, just three points ahead of Bayonne in 11th, 12th-placed Perpignan and Oyonnax in the second relegation spot. All three teams have 50.

Brive’s faint hopes of a play-off berth died at already-relegated Biarritz. The Basque side’s scrum half Dimitri Yachvilli marked his final appearance at Parc des Sports Aguilera with a 12-point haul as the hosts won 19-13.

The visitors were within two minutes of winning the game by a single point thanks to a 67th-minute try from Sevanaia Galala. But then replacement Yann Lesgourgues scored for the hosts – and Damien Traille, cool as you like, slotted the conversion, to give Biarritz another four points.

Racing Metro, meanwhile, beat Clermont 22-6 at Colombes to move level on points with Vern Cotter’s side. It was all about the boot, as Jonny Sexton, Juan Martin Hernandez and Maxime Marchenaud kicked the hosts into a 15-6 lead with four minutes to go. Juan Imhoff crossed the line to give the final score a flattering look.

By James Harrington (@blackmountained)

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images