Top 14: Dax your lot, almost - Toulon secure status to leave Dax teetering on the edge
08 May 2009
Relief: Toulon's Jerry Collins
Photo: Michael Paler
Dax 12 (6) Toulon 22 (8)
Toulon will definitely be playing Top 14 rugby next season after they beat Dax 22-12 to confirm their survival. The nervy win ensured Tana Umaga's men cannot be caught with just one game left to play, but Dax could now be relegated on Saturday should Bourgoin beat Castres.
No-one sported a broader smile than Toulon president Mourad Boudjellal, whose millions are now expected to be further depleted with the capture of England and Newcastle fly-half Jonny Wilkinson.
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But it was South African fly-half Conrad Barnard - on as an early replacement for Luke Rooney - who helped secure Toulon's status at a packed Stade Maurice Boyau. The 29-year-old former Cheetahs player struck three clean penalties as the visitors broke Dax's resolve with a determined second-half display.
The outcome was then secured when winger Sinoti Sinoti won a 50m sprint to score in the corner with just 15 minutes to go, adding to an earlier first-half try from heroic captain Joe Van Niekerk.
And yet Dax had actually dominated the opening 20 minutes and could have been more than 6-0 ahead had Maxime Petitjean been able to add to his two successful penalties.
The fly-half was on target in the fifth and 20th minutes, but squandered further opportunities in the ninth and 28th minutes as the home side surged forward on an emotional wave of passionate support.
But Petitjean's second miss proved costly when Toulon skipper Van Niekerk scored the game's opening try just three minutes later. The inspirational Springbok ploughed over after good work from Sonny Bill Williams and Sébastien Fauqué. Barnard, already on as a replacement for the injured Rooney, missed the conversion to leave it 6-5 to Dax.
The mounting casualties continued as the rain arrived shortly before the interval, with Dax hooker William Bonnet having to be replaced by Yves Pedrosa, while Argentine centre Frédérico Martin-Aramburu had earlier been forced off after a facial injury (to be replace by fellow countryman Lucas Borges).
And just when it seemed the home side would be heading to half-time with the slenderest of advantages up popped Fauqué with a timely drop-goal to steal the lead for the visitors.
When Barnard's penalty extended that lead further shortly after the restart Tana Umaga's team had snaffled 11 points in 12 minutes and appeared to be taking the match away from dallying Dax.
But ill-discipline then proved costly with a series of quick-fire penalties resulting in Petitjean slotting kicks in the 52nd and 54th minutes as the hosts fought back.
Umaga was furious - and not just with the referee - and Toulon immediately redoubled their efforts to put Dax under further pressure. The inevitable penalties resulted and South African Barnard was again on hand to exert maximum gain as he succeeded with efforts in the 59th and 61st minutes. Now, with 20 minutes left to play, Toulon were 17-11 ahead and scenting the success that would guarantee their Top 14 survival.
Dax, meanwhile, were staring into the rugby abyss of ProD2 as the sands of time drained through their desperate hands. Thomas Lièvremont's team simply had to respond if they were to have any hope of survival.
The next score was always likely to be crucial, and so it proved as winger Sinoti won a 50m race to the corner to seal the outcome just five minutes later. Barnard again missed with the extras but Toulon's lead was 10 points by now, and the champagne was already on ice.
There were no late scares and the final whistle brought due celebrations from a team which has rallied against form to win five our its last 10 league games to secure their Top 14 status. It means that incoming boss Philippe Saint-André can now relax safe in the knowledge his truck load of recruits will be playing their trade in France's top flight.
Dax, on the other hand, must now be ruing the awful 10-match losing streak which has effectively ended their two-year stay in Top 14. A Bourgoin win on Saturday - against a Castres side now safe themselves from the drop - will confirm Dax's demise.
||Van Niekerk, Sinoti