The most anticipated match of the sixth round of France’s Top 14 was the rematch between champions of Europe Toulon and Castres, the side that beat them 19-14 in last season’s Top 14 final to be crowned champions of France.
This is no tale of revenge, however, as big-spending Toulon headed home having failed to break a 29-year hoodoo at the host’s claustrophobic Stade Pierre Antoine – and, no doubt, wishing that combative All Black lock Ali Williams, who’s due at Stade Mayol on Wednesday, could have brought forward his arrival in France by a week or so.
As it was in June, the Castres win was built on solid defence, fearsome forward play and flashes of brilliance by scrum-half Rory Kockott and fast-as-lightning full-back Brice Dulin.
Lion Richie Gray came on early to replace an injured Ibrahim Diarra, and immediately made his 2m presence felt in the lineout, scrums and in the loose. And the only try of the game was a monstrous forward effort from a lineout.
But it was Kockott who made sure the day was Castres’. At 3-6 down with 10 minutes of the first half to go, he hit an upright with a penalty from 60m out, then calmly collected Delon Armitage’s clearing kick and coolly drilled a drop goal from a casual 55m.
The South African’s performance has had many a pundit wondering if he would become a second Bok-Coq and join Castres’ team-mate Antonie Claassen in France colours sooner rather than later.
Perpignan brought Montpellier’s three-match winning run to a juddering halt on Friday evening. The match was as good as over inside 20 painful minutes as Perpignan ran in three tries, including a stunning length-of-the-pitch score directly from the restart after scrum-half Dewalt Duvenage had touched down for the first time.
It will come as a surprise to precisely no one that Clermont extended their winning streak at Marcel Michelin to 63 games, with a straightforward 27-13 win over Grenoble.
The visitors were partly to blame for their own downfall, with James Hart and Ben Hand both sin-binned in the first half, while two second-half tries from Damien Chouly and a second yellow for Hand ended any lingering hopes the visitors may still have had of springing a shock.
Toulouse put their shut-out at Montpellier last Sunday behind them with a straightforward five-try 31-7 home win over Biarritz. Four first-half touchdowns and a three yellow cards meant it was as good as all over for the Basque side inside the first 40 minutes, who are now four points adrift of Brive at the bottom of the table.
Oyonnax’s away record is as bad as their home record is good. They lost 35-10 at Bordeaux on Saturday, conceding five tries in the process. The Top 14’s new boys will be looking forward to returning to Charles Mathon next week, discarding their unlucky gold away kit and putting on the so-far all-conquering red one for the visit of Stade Francais.
Oyonnax’s visitors next week made it three wins out of three at Jean-Bouin with a 25-18 victory over a spirited Brive. The hosts owed their win to kicker Jerome Porical, who kept their visitors at bay with six penalties and a conversion. His contribution ensured that Brive’s two-try effort would be in vain.
The weather conspired against fans of exciting, running rugby in Bayonne as torrential September rain ruined their match against Racing Metro as a spectacle. Jonny Sexton was the key man for Racing as they won away from home for the first time this season. He kicked four penalties and converted Camille Gerondeau’s 61st-minute try to guide his side to a dour 16-19 victory.
By James Harrington (@blackmountained)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images