Going into Wednesday’s fourth round of matches in the Top 14, defending champions Castres Olympique boasted the best try-scoring record in the league, with 10 tries in three matches.
They added another six in a 38-10 thumping of Stade Francais, whose lofty position at the top of the table going into the game at Pierre Antoine had clearly left them light-headed. Castres have started this season playing keep-it-in-hand, have-a-go-from-almost-anywhere rugby. When it works – as it did on Wednesday – it makes for breathless, thrilling play that is as close to Sir Clive Woodward’s mythical ‘total rugby’ as you’ll see in the northern hemisphere these days. When it doesn’t, however…
It was a night of tries in the Top 14. Toulon put nine past poor Brive, who faced a merciless backlash at Stade Mayol after that shock defeat against Grenoble on Saturday night. It wasn’t Brive’s fault. They battled gamely, and even went in at the break a mere 20-12 down. But Toulon would not be denied and went on a brutal try-spree in the second 40 minutes.
Clermont were arguably even more ruthless as they extended their winning streak at Stade Marcel Michelin to 62 games. They didn’t let Bayonne even get on the scoresheet, while they racked up 55 points and seven tries in 64 minutes. Then they decided they’d scored enough and practised their defence for the final 16. For the record, it looks to be in pretty good nick, as the visitors didn’t even look like scoring.
Toulouse’s home encounter with Racing Metro looked a tricky proposition on paper. Neither side has been in the greatest of form, but that rugby genius Guy Noves masterminded a 30-6 bonus-point home win over the boys in ciel et bleu. The result catapulted Toulouse from 10th to fourth, while Racing dropped from sixth to 11th.
In beating Bordeaux 29-36, Montpellier were the only travelling side to pick up a win – which will, no doubt, prompt ‘French sides don’t travel’-type comments which do home teams a disservice. In recording their second win in a row – and their second in this campaign – the Herault side at least kept playing for most of the 80 minutes.
Perpignan’s James Hook has been playing out of his favoured position at full-back this season. It doesn’t appear to have bothered him too much, though – and nor did the fact he was captain for the night on Wednesday. He guided his team to a five-try 36-13 romp against a Grenoble side still feeling the effects of Saturday’s victory over Toulon.
Meanwhile, gritty Oyonnax picked up their second win of the season over a Biarritz side that is relying far too much on the talents of scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili. He registered all the Basque side’s points at Stade Charles Mathon until US Eagle Takudzwa Ngwenya touched down with two minutes to go. Yachvili had the last word, landing the conversion, but even he could not stop the visitors going down 24-22. Still, he won them a losing bonus point.
By James Harrington (@blackmountained)