Top 14 Review: Round 5

CASTRES, FRANCE – Tired bodies lumbering painfully over rain-sodden pitches. The final instalment of the Top 14’s nine-day 21-match marathon was a long way from a joyous exhibition of flowing French rugby.

There was, however, the rare sight of Montpellier coach Fabien Galthie trying his hardest not to grin too widely as his side notched up their third win in a row. That he struggled to contain his glee was understandable, as his side scored three tries in a 25-0 bonus-point victory over Toulouse. Worse for the visitors, an embarrassing second-half mix-up between internationals Yoann Huget and Maxime Medard gifted the hosts their second try.

After that defeat, Toulouse coach Guy Noves will probably be delighted that his side’s next game is at home against in-even-deeper trouble Biarritz. The Basque side managed to give Toulon a run for their money for about an hour on Sunday – but the big-spending side from Var had more than enough in reserve to pull away in the final 20. That 24-13 defeat has left Biarritz languishing at the bottom of the table, three points adrift of 13th-place Brive.

Three missed penalties by Brock James proved costly for Clermont as they went down 23-16 at Stade Francais’ Stade Jean-Bouin. The ever-fearsome Sergio Parisse led the Parisian side from the front, and it was one of his typical storming breaks that led to Hugh Bonneval scoring the first try of the night.

Big summer signing Jonny Sexton is starting to pay back Racing Metro for their reported 50,000-euro-a-month salary – and in some style. He kicked 14 points in their 19-16 victory over Perpignan, while Tommaso Allen – taking on kicking duties while James Hook kept the bench warm – notched up 12 of the visitors’ total.

Oyonnax maintained their perfect home record with a 19-9 win over Castres. The result could have gone either way in a nip-tuck encounter, until the 78th minute when full back Silvere Tian made the most of increasingly desperate Castres’ passing to run in an interception try – his third in two games.

There was no Pierre Barnard in Bordeaux’s ranks, as they travelled to Grenoble. The kicker had earned a well-earned rest after two games in a few days – but it may have been a mistake in a game that was decided by the boot. All Grenoble’s 21 points came from penalties, and they were seven points clear at the final whistle.

Brive moved off the foot of the table with a 17-10 victory on home turf against Bayonne. There’s three points worth of clear air between them and bottom club Biarritz – which could be crucial as both teams face missions impossible on the road next weekend. Brive are at Stade, while Biarritz are at Toulouse.

By James Harrington (@blackmountained)

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images