ProD2, r30: Saint-André joins brother in Top 14 after Lyon OU are crowned champions
09 May 2011
|FC Auch Gers
It went to the last day of the regular season but Lyon OU finally clinched their historic promotion to Top 14 when they were crowned ProD2 champions on Sunday.
Rafael Saint-André's side narrowly missed out last season when they lost in the play-off final to La Rochelle, but they ensured against that by finishing first this time around to claim the solitary automatic promotion slot.
In they end they finished two points clear of Grenoble after winning 23-14 at basement club Saint-Etienne on Sunday, meaning Grenoble, Mont-de-Marsan, SCA Albi and Union Bordeaux-Bègles will now scrap it out in the play-offs for the other promotion berth.
Saint-Etienne had only won twice all season and Lyon duly eased 13-0 clear after 27 minutes thanks to a penalty try and eight points from the boot of Welsh full-back Lee Thomas.
Former France international Alexandre Péclier kicked a penalty back for the hosts just before the half hour, but Lyon went further ahead thanks to a try from scrum-half Antoine Nicoud and Thomas' conversion.
At 20-3 it appeared game over, but Saint-Etienne - playing their last game in ProD2 before returning to Fédérale 1 - fought back via a 32nd-minute try from flanker Filipe Manu, in his last game before joining Bourgoin.
That left the score 20-8 at half time, but Saint-Etienne continued to make the leaders work hard and reduced the deficit to 23-14 by the hour mark after penalties from Julien Baron and Péclier, with Thomas replying for Lyon.
And that's how it remained up to the final whistle with Lyon's players and travelling fans deservedly celebrating at the end as they achieved promotion to France's top tier for the first time in their history.
Their ascension is welcome news for French rugby in general as it not only brings an ambitious and well-run club into Top 14, but also one from the country's second largest city. Their potential was highlighted by twice breaking the ProD2 attendance record this season, the last time when they attracted 37,000 to watch their 'home' derby against Oyonnax in mid-April after relocating the match to the Stade Gerland.
ProD2 League Table 2010/11
Saint-André said he would enjoy the celebrations, but warned that Lyon now faced a massive challenge to try and hold on to their Top 14 status next season.
"We know we have to work a lot this off-season. We know that the first season is definitely the hardest and most complicated, but we will do everything we can. We can't predict the future but I think Lyon has all the cards to succeed," he said.
There will be no massive investment from a sugar-daddy owner but Saint-André is optimistic that the club's foundations are solid. "We will fight with our heart because this town deserves a big club," he said. "I think we can fill the Gerland several times next season. We are able to survive," he added.
Lyon chairman Yvan Patet said his overriding emotion was "relief" after finally confirming promotion to Top 14. "It is the culmination of nine to ten years work which Jacques Cadario [former president] started before me," he added.
Second-placed Grenoble will now hope to join Lyon by winning the play-offs after they finished just two points behind the champions.
Their 22-6 victory at Pau on Sunday means they will have a home semi-final against Union Bordeaux-Bègles on May 15, before (if successful) taking on the winner of the SCA Albi v Mont-de-Marsan.
They triumphed at Pau despite having three players sin-binned, thanks to a first-half penalty try and second-half scores from Lucas Dupont and Denis Lison.
Union Bordeaux-Bègles must travel to Grenoble after slipping from fourth to fifth on the final day following their 29-27 away defeat at FC Auch Gers.
The visitors looked set for the victory they wanted as they led 27-22 with just three minutes remaining after Camille Lopez touched down for their third try - following earlier efforts from Andrew Mailei and Matthew Clarkin.
But Auch nicked it at the death when Fijian Aloisio Butonidualevu crossed for his second try of the match - and eighth of the season - leaving Bordeaux to face the daunting prospect of a trip to Grenoble in the play-off semi-finals.
ProD2 leading try and point scorers in 2010/11
Early-season leaders SCA Albi finished third after winning 25-24 at Aix-en-Provence.
Centre Baptiste Hecker got them off to ideal start with a fifth-minute try, but the game was dominated by kickers after that with Frédéric Manca contributing Albi's other 20 points - via six penalties and a conversion - while Provence kept in contention throughout thanks to 21 points from full-back Antoine Lescalmel, who landed seven penalties on his final appearance before joining Carcassonne.
Lescalmel's haul left him with 369 for the season, two ahead of Bordeaux's Gerard Frazer and five up on Manca at the top of the ProD2 scoring charts. Alexandre Latapie also slotted a drop-goal for the hosts.
Albi will now host Mont-de-Marsan in the other play-off semi-final after the latter climbed to fourth on the back of their 48-24 home win against Oyonnax.
Mont-de-Marsan ran in seven tries, including two more for Timoci Matanavu as the prolific Fijian took his season's total to an incredible 19 from 24 starts. The 26-year-old winger, who has signed for Stade Toulousain next season, touched down in the 34th and 49th minutes, adding to other tries from Alban Genthieu, Thibault Duvallet, Romain Lauga and Damien Cler (who also grabbed a brace).
Oyonnax's three tries all came after the break - and when the match had already been long lost - as Jérémy Aiccardi, Damien Fèvre and Sébastien Bouillot touched down for consolation scores.
SCA Albi v Mont-de-Marsan (May 14, 14.00)
Grenoble v Union Bordeaux-Bègles (May 15, 15.10)
The other unresolved issue at the weekend was the second relegation slot, with Dax and Colomiers both tied on 50 points going into their respective games.
Dax went into their home match with RC Narbonne having lost four of their last five games, but knew that a bonus-point victory would be enough to save them - and so it proved as they rattled up eight tries in a 60-17 win.
Cédric Beal, Bastien Adrillon and and Rémi Hughes all scored before the break, with Beal (again), Ludovic Courtade, Craig Smith, Olivier August and Neumi Nanuku crossing in the second half. Full-back Richard Apanui chipped in with six conversions and two penalties to complete the rout as Dax finally came good when it mattered most.
Dax's bonus-point win meant relegation for Colomiers despite them also collecting maximum points for their 35-15 home win against Carcassonne - and therefore ending on the same number of points (55) as Dax.
Colomiers did the best they could by scoring five tries within an hour, five of which were converted by Yannick Lafforgue, but in the end it proved irrelevant as the one-time European finalists bade farewell to ProD2.
In the weekend's other match Aurillac ended their season with a 35-21 home win against Tarbes, with Erasmus van Vuuren, Albert Valentin, Jean-Philippe Cassan and Graydon Staniforth all scoring tries for the hosts.