Pity those poor Top 14 players. Sure, a few of them get paid pretty healthy salaries – Jonny Wilkinson and Jonny Sexton are reportedly on somewhere in the region of 70,000 euros a month, for example – but they are currently facing three big matches in 10 days, which is tough on even the most match-hardened of bodies. It may even make a few of them wonder if the money is really worth it…
But anyone who saw Grenoble stun Toulon on Saturday evening will have no doubt that these players are worth every cent. It was a match that had everything. It ebbed and flowed, frustrated and excited, enthralled and entertained from the first minute to several after the hooter had signalled the end of 80 minutes. The match was three minutes into overtime when Matt Giteau crashed over the Grenoble line to drag Toulon to within two points and give Jonny Wilkinson a difficult chance to level the scores with the last kick of the game from out wide.
The opening encounter of the third weekend of Top 14 rugby had kicked off 24 hours earlier, when Stade Francais entertained Biarritz at their newly refurbished Stade Jean-Bouin – though ‘entertained’ may be too strong a word. Stuffed. Destroyed. Ruined. Any one of those may be better as Stade romped to a joyful 38-3 victory that sent the Parisian side soaring to the top of the table, where – thanks in no small part to Grenoble – they will remain until Wednesday at least.
Clermont put their 60-match winning streak at Stade Marcel-Michelin on the line against Toulouse on Saturday afternoon. For close to an hour, the visitors threatened to raze the Fortress that has stood unbeaten and unbowed since November 2009 – but from 20-19, Clermont simply stepped up a gear and cruised to a 33-19 win. Make it a 61-match winning streak at home, then, and don’t bet against it becoming 62 on Wednesday, when they entertain Bayonne.
Speaking of Bayonne, they faced Perpignan at the same time as Grenoble were playing Toulon. But their match did not go down to the wire, with the home side wrapping up a 31-20 win well within regular time.
Another shock briefly seemed on the cards as Top 14 new boys Oyonnax went into the dressing room at the end of the first half 9-6 up against Racing Metro. But a combination of over-excitable indiscipline and Jonny Sexton made sure Racing notched up a 22-9 victory.
A lack of precision and a high penalty count cost reigning champions Castres as their hopes of a second win in a row fell foul of former player Pierre Barnard, who kicked all of Bordeaux’s points in a close encounter of the 21-20 kind at Stade Jacques Chabin-Delmas.
Looking at the 33-24 final score, you might be surprised to learn that Montpellier coach Fabien Galthie was less-than pleased to see his side win for the first time this season, and shoot up to seventh in the table. You might find his ill-humour more understanding if you knew that, on the hour, the scoreline read 33-3. Just what happened in the final 20 minutes has been the subject of huge media speculation in France – and, no doubt, the truth of the matter will stay one of those much-talked-about dressing-room secrets.
By James Harrington (@blackmountained)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images