Top 14, r23: Perpignan humiliate Stade Francais; Racing relief after Brive encounter
27 March 2010
Rocket man: Francois Steyn
Photo: Michael Paler
Defending champions Perpignan ran in seven tries against rudderless Stade Francais as they hammered the Parisians 44-23 at the Stade Aimé Giral.
This latest defeat was their third on the spin - and their 12th overall in the league this season - and effectively ended their slim play-off hopes, especially with Racing-Métro seeing off Brive 25-18.
Two Lionel Beauxis successes gave Stade an early 6-0 lead, but they found themselves 24-9 down at half time after the Catalans responded with four tries.
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Fit-again Jerome Porical celebrated his return with the opening try - which he converted himself - before Gerrie Britz, Farid Sid and David Marty all followed suit.
Full-back Porical doubled up two minutes after the restart to continue Stade's pain, and the visitors were further handicapped when winger Julien Arias was yellow carded on 53.
Italian international Mirco Bergamasco did manage a try in reply with 15 minutes left, but Marius Tincu and Nicolas Durand then went over in quick success as Perpignan ran in their sixth and seventh tries or a rampant afternoon.
Porical missed the final two conversions, but still marked his playing return with a handsome 19 point haul, while Stade's James Haskell grabbed a late consolation score before the end. But it couldn't hide how the visitors had been outplayed throughout on another harrowing afternoon for president Max Guazzini.
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The result left Stade 10 points adrift of sixth-placed Racing-Métro 92 - their city rivals - after the latter beat Brive 25-18 to strengthen their own play-off claims.
Two long-range Francois Steyn penalties put them 6-0 up after quarter of an hour, and the young Springbok was on target again - this time with a drop-goal - when he made it 9-3 on 30 minutes after Fabrice Estebanez had replied for the away side.
Estebanez was off target with four other first-half attempts - two drop-goals, a penalty and a conversion - as the gusting wind hindered the kickers, but Brive still fought back to within a point following Retief Uys' 33rd-minute try.
Racing also slipped down to 14 men as Steyn blotted his copybook with a spell in the sin-bin, but veteran All Blacks fly-half Andrew Mehrtens slotted a 39th-minute penalty to leave it 12-8 to the hosts at half time.
The decisive score came three minutes after the restart when Sebastien Chabal was first to respond after Santiago Dellape had charged down Alexis Palisson's attempted clearance. Mehrtens kicked a penalty shortly after to extend Racing's lead to 20-8, before veteran winger Sireli Bobo touched down for his sixth try of the campaign to seal the crucial win.
Brive - who had started the match just four points behind Racing in seventh position - did manage a late rally to keep home nerves jangling, with Jamie Noon capitalising on good work from Palisson to score on 65 minutes. Estebanez converted and Palisson added a penalty three minutes from time, but a last-ditch tackle from Dan Scarborough prevented the Brive full-back adding a second try and Racing held out for only their second win in seven league games.
The result means they are now seven points clear of Brive with three games to go - although it's a cushion they may yet need as those matches are against Stade Toulousain (a), Biarritz (h) and Stade Francais (a) as Pierre Berbizier's side face a tough run-in.
Biarritz are now level with Brive on 52 points as they kept their fading play-off hopes alive with a 21-10 home win against Stade Toulousain.
The Basques - playing at the Estadio Anoeta across the border in San Sebastien - won out thanks to the combined boots of Dimitri Yachvili (six penalties) and Damien Traille (a drop goal), despite Toulouse scoring the first try of the match.
That came from full-back Maxime Médard on 19 minutes and briefly put the visitors into a 10-6 lead, only for Yachvili to haul them back in with some precision place-kicking.
The Biarritz scrum-half landed a crucial brace just before the interval, and was on target again on 44 minutes as the home side moved 15-10 ahead.
Toulouse number eight Louis Picamoles then saw yellow as the ref finally lost his patience with repeat offending, but Yachvili's previous accuracy temporarily deserted him as he missed three consecutive penalties.
A 60th-minute success finally ended that run, and Traille's 35-metre drop-goal with 12 minutes left secured the hard-fought win. The French international then rounded off the match with a try in the final minute as the home side completed their 26-10 victory.
Leaders Castres returned to winning ways with a 26-10 victory against relegation-threatened Bayonne as the hosts maintained their unbeaten home record.
An 11th-minute Mathieu Bonello try gave them early momentum but Bayonne fought back after flanker Ibrahim Diarra was sin-binned on half an hour, with lock Nicolas Lafitte going over from a close-in maul just two minutes later.
Fly-half Cédric Garcia added the conversion to an earlier penalty to leave it 10-10 at half time, but Castres took control after the restart with some typically bullish forwards play. A Romain Teulet penalty regained the lead on 46 minutes and substitute Josefa Tekori powered over after further pressure just before the hour mark.
Teulet added two more penalties before the end to ensure the win, leaving Castres level on points with Perpignan after the latter had secured their attacking bonus against Stade Francais.
Clermont Auvergne are just a point further back after they eventually dispatched Montpellier 41-3 at the Stade Marcel Michelin.
South African centre Marius Joubert opened the scoring with a try after just eight minutes, but Montpellier remained competitive for the first half and were just 10-3 when the ref blew his whistle for the interval.
After that it was one-way traffic for the home side, with in-form Anthony Floch setting the victory in motion with his seventh try of the season just four minutes after the break. Clermont went on to add four more tries in the closing 20 minutes as their mounting pressure eventually told, with Davit Zirakashvili, Brock James, Elvis Vermeulen and Benoit Cabello all going over.
The win maintains Clermont's hopes of claiming a top two slot, but Montpellier - who rested Francois Trinh-Duc - now find themselves in the bottom two after slipping to their fifth defeat in seven league games.
However, all three of their remaining games are against teams directly around them, beginning with a home match against already-relegated SCA Albi. They then travel to Montauban before concluding with a last-day showdown against Bourgoin.
Montauban did themselves a favour by winning 26-12 away to Albi, but they may yet regret not having secured an attacking bonus.
Marc Raynaud's team climbed from 13th to 10th on the back of that victory, but he won't be happy that they let a 26-0 lead be whittled down while they went in search of their own extras.
Brice Mach's charge-down try after 10 minutes set them on their way, with Cédric Rosalen adding 11 points with his boot as they opened up a 16-0 advantage by half time - despite losing Scott Murray for 10 minutes.
Winger Adrien Figueiredo touched down four minutes into the second half to raise hopes of an attacking bonus, but Albi skipper Vincent Clément replied in kind for the hosts before flying winger Pierre-Gilles Lakafia scored a second Albi try 12 minutes from time.
It wasn't enough to prevent them slipping to their 20th defeat in 23 league games, however, and Montauban will just be thankful to have escaped (temporarily at least) from the dreaded drop zone.
On Friday, Argentine fly-half Felipe Contepomi scored all of Toulon's points as they rallied from an early 6-0 deficit to win 9-13 at relegation-threatened Bourgoin.
The victory was Toulon's sixth in succession in the league and their latest triumph was built on Contepomi's first-half try - the only one of the match - and some stubborn defending after the break once the Pumas captain had kicked two penalties to add to his earlier conversion.
Bourgoin started brightly and showed attacking intent as they were urged on by a full house in their last league match of the season at their home ground Stade Pierre Rajon.
Two early Benjamin Boyet penalties had them 6-0 up after 14 minutes, with Toulon also down a man at that point following Mafileo Kefu's ninth-minute yellow card for taking the man without the ball.
But Toulon are made of stern stuff this season and Philippe Saint-André's side are a well-drilled unit that has consistently fought its way to victory this campaign. With 15 already under their belt - including this latest one - they have now won more league matches than any other team, and the confidence that has brought was clear for all to see.
They may have rested South African skipper Joe Van Niekerk, and left England's Jonny Wilkinson on the bench, but their ever-increasing squad depth meant that they still had enough in reserve to fight back and take honours at Bourgoin.
Dominant number eight Juan Fernandez Lobbe - another Argentine - enjoyed a superb game at the base of Toulon's scrum, and it was his pick and drive after 22 minutes which set up Contepomi (via Jocelino Suta) for the game's only try. The visitors' fly-half duly converted his own try, but Toulon slipped behind again when Boyet kicked his third penalty for Bourgoin just before half time.
A torrential storm made handling difficult after the break but Toulon's pragmatic forward-based attack always held the upper hand, and eventually earned six more points as Contepomi slotted successful penalties in the 51st and 55th minutes to regain the lead.
And that's how it stayed until the final whistle, despite Bourgoin hurling everything they had at the visitors' defence, especially in the closing 10 minutes. They even had a last-minute penalty at which they opted for the scrum as they went for late glory, but Toulon's defence held firm yet again and they managed to scramble the ball clear to secure the win.
Former All Blacks captain Tana Umaga had a solid game on the left wing as the 36-year-old managed 75 minutes on his latest playing return, while Wilkinson came off the bench for the final quarter as Saint-André sent on the reinforcements.
Toulon are now 15 points clear of seventh-placed Brive and have virtually assured themselves of a play-off slot. Whether that is directly into the semi-finals (for finishing in the top two) or the quarter-finals (3rd-6th) remains to be seen, but with two of their final three games at the Stade Félix Mayol - where they remain unbeaten in all competitions this season - they are clearly in an excellent position.
Big-spending president Mourad Boudjellal is witnessing serious return on his massive investment, and could not contain his delight after the final whistle. "We have qualified," he told reporters. "Its the first time in five years that Toulon will take place in the final phase. It's a great satisfaction," he added.
His joyous mood was in stark contrast to Bourgoin's, who now find themselves mired deep in the relegation battle and with games fast running out. Missed kicks (from Boyet and Alberto di Bernardo) proved costly, and although this was their first defeat in four they must now travel for all three of their remaining matches - with their final 'home' game against Stade Toulousain having been switched to Stade Gerland, a bigger ground. They did at least earn a point, but that only left them three clear of 13th-placed Montpellier.
Their other two games are away to Brive and then - on what looks increasingly likely to be a last-day shootout - away to Montpellier.
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