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Top 14 - Round 17 Review
Castres strengthen grip on Top 14
Scrum.com
January 3, 2010

Castres tightened their grip at the summit of the Top 14 with a comfortable 44-10 victory over bottom-placed Albi as their nearest rivals slipped up.

Struggling Albi were made to pay for their lack of discipline as Castres went four points clear of Clermont. Lock Paul Guffroy and fly-half Frederic Manca saw yellow in the opening minutes of the second-half and things only got worse for the visitors as replacement scrum-half Sébastien Pages was shown a straight red on 55 minutes.

Chris Masoe and Cameron McIntyre rammed home Castres' advantage with tries while Albi were lacking bodies, McIntyre bagging his second to go with a 16th minute effort. Marc Andreu had scored Castres' first after only four minutes and a commanding half-time lead was secured thanks to a penalty try. Albi's only efforts from scrum-half Kevin Boulogne - who was at fault for the penalty try but atoned with a try, penalty and conversion. Joe Tekori rounded off the rout with a late try.

Clermont Auvergne continued their ominous form by demolishing Toulon 39-3 at the Stade Marcel Michelin to keep in touch with the leaders.

Days after thrashing Brive Les Jaunards were at it again, running five tries past a Toulon side that missed Jonny Wilkinson's usual style, the fly-half missing a string of penalties before departing at the break. Canadian lock Jamie Cudmore scored their first after a tight opening half an hour, giving the home side a 10-0 lead after a penalty from Morgan Parra.

After the restart the floodgates opened. Wilkinson's replacement Sebastien Fauque slotted a drop-goal but his side proceeded to ship 29 unanswered points. Parra darted in for a try, which was followed by a penalty try. Julien Malzieu scored his second league try in as many games, with Brock James coming off the bench to convert. James' fellow replacement Kevin Senio scored the final points with Clermont's fifth.

Toulouse scrapped to a 15-13 victory over lowly Bayonne in atrocious conditions at the Stade Jean Dauger. Bayonne wing Benjamin Fall scored the only try late on but it was 15 points from the boot of returning Toulouse playmaker Jean-Baptiste Elissalde that proved decisive.

Toulouse's dominance of the scrum provided Elissalde with two first-half penalties, but Cedric Garcia was equal to him and chipped over two of his own, the second a stunning strike from out wide. After the break Elissalde showed further mastery of the conditions by sending over a towering drop-goal, but Florian Fritz could not extend the lead with a penalty from inside his own half.

Elissalde made no mistake with his next opportunity after Romain Millo-Chluski was upended at a lineout and found his range again to bring his side a nine-point lead as Bayonne pressed through Thibault Lacroix and Craig Gower. The breakthrough came when quick scrum ball created an overlap for Fall and the new French cap made no mistake. Garcia curled in a brilliant touchline conversion but could not convert a last, ambitious long range penalty.

Reigning champions Perpignan lost for the second time this week as they followed up a disappointing performance against Toulouse with a 29-9 thumping at the hands of inconsistent Brive at the Stade Amedee Domenech.

The champions failed to score a try against a Brive side that was hammered by Clermont in midweek, with three penalties from Steve Meyer all they could muster. The home side were powered by a 19-point haul from fullback Alexis Palisson, who bagged a second-half try to go with a conversion and four penalties. England centre Riki Flutey played the full 80 minutes on his return to the side following a long injury layoff.

Georgian prop David Khinchagashvili had scored their first try after 14 minutes, while Perpignan's Romanian international hooker Marius Tincu cooled off in the sin-bin. Farid Sid followed him to the bin before half-time, allowing Palisson to slot his second penalty. Brive centre Ronnie Cooke secured the result with a late try, leaving Perpignan needing a result from their game in hand to kick-start their challenge.

Racing Metro were left stunned by lowly Bourgoin as their nine-game winning streak was ended by an 18-17 loss at the Stade Yves du Manoir.

Replacement Jonathan Wisniewski again came up with the goods for the home side by scoring 12 of their points, including a second-half try, but Bourgoin showed their fighting spirit to hang on. Lock Camille Levast crashed over after 10 minutes, with his effort bookended by a penalty and drop-goal from fly-half Benjamin Boyet.

Racing responded with a try to flanker Johnny Leo'o but his try was cancelled out after the break by Albert Vulivuli. Wisniewski crossed to bring Racing back to within striking distance but despite his late drop-goal Bourgoin nicked the points after Frans Steyn missed a late penalty.

Biarritz picked up back-to-back victories by beating Montpellier 26-10 at the Parc des Sports Aguilera. Montpellier had been riding high after beating Stade last time out, but fell short against a Biarritz side buoyed by a strong showing in the Heineken Cup.

Iain Balshaw and Takudzwa Ngwenya continued their try-scoring form with efforts either side of the break, but both were outdone by centre Arnaud Mignardi, who struck minutes after Balshaw and Ngwenya to knock the stuffing out of the visitors. Montpellier brought late respectability to the scoreline with a try from flanker Marc Giraud, but in reality they were out of the contest long before and remain mired in the relegation struggle.

Stade Francais finished a week to forget by playing their part in a dour 6-6 draw with Montauban at the Stade de Sapiac.

Stade slipped up for the second time in a matter of days, dropping further points against opposition below them in the table as their play-off surge continues to falter. Lionel Beauxis clipped over two penalties for Stade, who were forced to play 19-year-old Charlie Davies at scrum-half due to an injury to Noel Oelschig.

His efforts were matched by Cedric Rosalen, who had given his side a short-lived lead on two occasions with a penalty and a drop-goal.

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