Top 14, round 4 review: Toulon and Toulouse share top spot as Stade Francais crash again
02 September 2009
Toulon and Stade Toulousain are the new joint-leaders of Top 14 after both notched narrow home wins in round four.
Toulon came from 9-0 down to beat Clermont Auvergne 26-21, while Stade Toulousain belatedly found their form against Bayonne to turn a 14-6 half-time deficit into a 21-17 win.
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Jonny Wilkinson suffered a rare off day with the boot, although he did still manage two conversions, a penalty and a drop-goal as Toulon maintained their unbeaten start to the campaign. The recalled England fly-half also had a major hand in his side's opening try as he fed Welsh centre Jamie Robinson, who in turn set up winger Sinoti Sinoti.
The combined boots of Anthony Floch and Seremaia Bai ensured Clermont went in 12-10 ahead at the interval, with Bai extending that to 18-10 courtesy of two more penalties shortly after the resumption.
Toulon winger Clément Marienval then grabbed the home team's second try (on 50 minutes), and Wilkinson duly converted from the sidelines before giving way to Sebastien Fauqué, who wrapped up the win with three subsequent penalties of his own.
The win means Toulon are not only joint leaders with Stade Toulousain, but are now also the only unbeaten team left in Top 14.
Stade Toulousain were forced to play catch up after gifting Bayonne a pair of first-half tries at the Stade Ernest Wallon. First, Jean-Baptiste Elissalde's innocuous grubber kick was blocked by Lionel Mazars - who handed Vilimoni Bolavucu an easy run in - then Frédéric Michalak's tame pass was intercepted for a 60m try as Mazars added his own score right on half-time to leave the 17-time champions 14-6 adrift.
The game's turning point was a raft of heavyweight substitutions on 50 minutes as Guy Noves tired of his team's powder puff efforts and turned to his big guns. Replacement scrum-half Byron Kelleher injected the necessary impetus to Stade's play and the new-look front row also began to exert pressure as they earned a 55th-minute penalty try.
Number eight Shaun Sowerby completed the fightback with Stade's second try nine minutes from time, but the sloppy handling and endless unforced errors will be a concern for Noves as he prepares his team for Sunday's showdown with Clermont.
Bayonne coach Richard Dourthe, meanwhile, will be delighted with a defensive bonus, although ultimately disappointed his charges couldn't hold out to inflict Stade's first home league defeat since April 2008.
Defending champions Perpignan kept pace with the top two thanks to a convincing 21-9 home win against Brive. First-half tries from David Marty and Christophe Manas set the Catalans on their way, with Nicolas Laharrague adding a further 11 points with his boot as they registered their third win in four games.
Brive's points came from two Luciano Orquera penalties and an Andy Goode drop-goal, but the latter - playing at full-back - ended the match on the sidelines as he became the third Brive player to see yellow. Irish lock Christian Short was sin-binned in the first half, and replacement prop Petrisor Toderasc followed suit after the interval as Brive's ill-discipline let them down.
Perpignan's Gerrie Britz was also yellow-carded at the end (with Goode), but the win was already secure by then and the home side's only concern was whether they'd also collect the attacking bonus.
There was no doubting the night's biggest shock, however, with Stade Francais going down 35-40 at home to Montauban - who had started the evening at the foot of the table and without a win.
An early yellow card for Stade winger Henri Camara paved the way for Montauban's opening try from Bogdan Balan and the visitors remained within a point of the hosts at half-time despite four penalties from starting scrum-half Falie Oelschig and a pair of drop-goals from fly-half Lionel Beauxis.
Montauban's Cedric Rosalen replied with four penalty kicks of his own as Stade went in 18-18 ahead, but the visitors reclaimed the lead shortly after the interval when ... Viard rounded off an excellent move to claim their second try of a topsy-turvy evening. Rosalen added the extras to take Montauban 24-18 ahead, with Oelschig's fifth penalty reducing the arrears.
But Marc Raynaud's men weren't done yet and soon opened up a 16-point advantage thanks to Abdel Boutaty's try and eight more points from the prolific Rosalen's prolific boot.
Substitute scrum-half Julien Dupuy then set up Beauxis for Stade's first try of the evening, with England sevens captain Ollie Phillips adding a second late on - to earn a defensive bonus - but Montauban held on for a worthy win that will lift spirits after defeats to Stade Toulousain and Clermont Auvergne.
The questions will continue to be asked at Stade Francais, meanwhile, with Australian coach Ewen McKenzie under increasing pressure after just one win in four following a heavy summer of expenditure.
Fellow play-off hopefuls Biarritz are also struggling and slipped to their third defeat in four as they went down 22-18 at Montpellier, with Benoit Paillauge the home side's hero with .. points.
Paillaugue was on the money with all five penalty attempts, and also converted scrum-half Julien Thomas' 50th-minute try as Montpellier bounced back from their capital disappointment in Paris, when they let slip a 23-13 advantage.
Again they conceded late tries here, with Biarritz's Benoit August and Nicolas Brusque both going over in the closing five minutes, but this time they held on for the deserved win after they had roared into a 22-6 lead.
At least Biarritz got a defensive bonus, but three defeats from four is a shocking start to the campaign for a team which was only too ready to trumpet its own play-off credentials after a positive pre-season.
Re-born Bourgoin capped off a superb few days by beating Racing-Métro 17-13 to make it back-to-back wins for the financially strapped club.
Bourgoin - who were saved from bankruptcy earlier in the week - followed Saturday's excellent 22-17 home win against Biarritz with another gutsy performance as they beat the Jacky Lorenzetti backed club.
Cash is certainly not a problem for Paris outfit coached by Pierre Berbizier, but nothing can compensate for team spirit - something which seems to have blossomed at Bourgoin following their early-season struggles.
The home celebrated their survival - and the release of all player contracts - by notching two tries in the first-half as they opened up a 14-6 advantage. The first was a penalty try, and the second a debut score for Albert Vulivuli, who was finally able to make his belated Bourgoin bow after the DNACG gave the go ahead for all new signings to play.
Michel Loree's second-half try for Racing briefly threatened to dampen the party atmosphere, but Benjamin Boyet landed a crucial penalty to maintain the momentum as Bourgoin's defiance remained resolute to the end.