By Ciarán Duffy
A round-up of where the money is
For the last two weeks Toulon outmuscled Leinster to keep themselves in Europe. For the last week two weeks, Toulouse weren’t able to keep up with Ulster, being second best over the course of both games. This is however the French league, and so the formbook has to be disregarded.
Gael Fickou opened the scoring, intercepting a loose pass thrown by Ma’a Nonu. It had been a back and forth opening ten minutes, Nonus uncharacteristic error handed the initiative to Toulouse, and that would be the difference in a tight first half. Sebastien Bezy converted having missed an earlier penalty. The game remained tight for the first 40, Tom Taylor slotted a 15 minute penalty to get Toulon on the board, 6 minutes later Bezy restored his sides 7 point lead.
The game was marred by some bizarre refereeing decisions. Both Mamuka Gorgodze and Thierry Dusautoir were sin binned in the first half, without prior warning or repeated infringement. Dusautoirs yellow card was a clear case of the referee feeling the need to level the playing field after making a big decision against one team early on. Really, neither should have left the field.
Toulon should have gone in level, Tom Taylor missed two very kickable penalties. Halftime Toulouse were deservedly 10-3 up.
Maxime Medard got the second try for Toulouse, but credit has to go to Florian Fritz. The centre turned on the style to create the opportunity for Medard to touch down.
It was unfortunately a double blow for Toulon. Duane Vermeulen, who managed to make it to the World Cup despite having had neck surgery in July, suffered another injury. He took a knock to the head while attempting to stop Medards try. He was stretchered off and replaced by Juan Smith, hopefully it was not as serious as it looked. Bezy converted and Toulon were 14 points behind.
Toulon needed points and they had a ten-minute spell on top. Toulouse were lucky not to see someone go to the bin for the amount of penalties they were giving away. Eventually Toulon got the try to get them back in the game. The momentum they had got from James O’Connors score was compromised by Tom Taylors failure to convert, it was still a two score game.
Just four minutes later Toulouse ended the game as a contest. Yacouba Camara finished beautifully, storming through the defence. He was close to the touch line but managed to get the ball down, while at the same time putting himself in the conversation for the French Six Nations squad. Bezys conversion made it 24-8. Toulouse wrapped up the bonus point with 5 minutes to go after being awarded a penalty try. It finished Toulouse 31 – 8 Toulon.
Toulouse replace Clermont Auvergne at the summit of the top 14. Clermont went down 20 points to 16 at the hands of Racing 92, it was Racings first win away to Clermont since 1994.
Next weekend Toulouse face last seasons champions Stade Français. Stade Français continue their abysmal form, 7 defeats in a row now after losing to fellow relegation candidates Oyonnax. Stade are becoming increasingly at risk of losing their top flight status in addition to their top 14 title, they’re going to need a result at home to Toulouse on the weekend to keep up any lingering hope they may have of qualifying for the Champions Cup next season.
Oyannax will travel to Bernard Jackmans Grenoble, who went down 25 – 19 at Bordeaux Begles, keeping their relegation concerns alive and making this tie all the more important.
Toulon take on the other team in this relegation dog fight. They’ll host Pau, there’s a potential huge midfield battle in this one, with the possibility of Conrad Smith and Ma’a Nonu coming up against each other. Pau got a much needed win, beating La Rochelle 15 – 11. Keep an eye on Pau over the course of the next few weeks, with Simon Zebo being heavily linked with the Top 14 strugglers.
Racing will look to build on their win. Having gone level on points with Clermont they’ll face high flyers Bordeaux-Begles. Bordeaux are currently in 5th place, well on their way to ensuring Ian Madigan will still be playing Champions Cup rugby next season. Clermont will look to regain their momentum when they travel to bottom side Agen. Agen were beaten 45 – 20 a Montpellier.
The other two games are all about a quarter final spot. Montpellier lie sixth at the moment and will take on Connachts Challenge Cup opponents Brive. Brive remain 7th despite a 23 – 8 loss to Castres. Castres face La Rochelle, who need the win to stay in contention for the play offs, and out of the relegation battle.
Despite their European form suggesting otherwise, Toulouse go in to 2016 in pole position of the Top 14, with Toulon remaining 4th behind Clermont Auvergne and Racing 92. Inconsistencies like this can be expected from French teams like Toulouse, but Toulon aren’t exactly a French team are they, more a world team that are based in France. The second half of the season is shaping up nicely with more twists sure to come.
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Ciarán Duffy (@VoiceQuakeDuffy) is a Leinster supporter who would watch any game of rugby while undoubtedly taking it too seriously. He enjoys over analysing and taking a pessimistic look at the bright side while talking about Irish, European, and World Rugby issues on and off the field.
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