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Top 14 - Round 26 Review
Perpignan and Toulon top the pile
Scrum.com
April 24, 2010

Toulon won at Brive on the final day of the regular season in France but were beaten to top spot by Perpignan, who picked up a bonus point in their rout of basement boys Albi.

Clermont Auvergne finished third after triumphing at Biarritz, while Toulouse sneaked into the top four courtesy of their victory over Castres.

At the other end, Montauban overcame Bayonne in their relegation decider but the victors could yet go down because of their financial irregularities.

Toulouse earned themselves a home draw in the first round of the play-offs by beating Castres 25-17 at the Stade Ernest Wallon on Saturday afternoon.

Toulouse posed the greater attacking threat in the opening exchanges and they deservedly took the lead 11 minutes in when fly-half Jean-Baptiste Elissalde floated over a drop goal from just to the left of the uprights.

The French international tried another one moments later but this time he dragged his attempt badly to the left. However, he made amends by slotting over a 22-metre penalty on 17 minutes to belatedly double the home side's advantage.

However, Romain Teulet halved Toulouse's deficit with a long-range kick after Yannick Jauzion had illegally blocked off Yannick Caballero as the Castres flanker attempted to tackle Clement Poitrenaud.

Teulet then levelled matters on the half hour after Patricio Albacete had been pinged for coming in from the side before more Toulouse ill-discipline at the breakdown enabled the Castres fullback to slot over two more penalties just before the interval to help the visitors into a 12-6 half-time lead.

However, within ten minutes of the restart Toulouse were six points ahead. Vilimoni Delasau burrowed his way over from close range following a spell of incessant pressure from the hosts before Heymans broke through two tackles to touch down after a powerful catch-and-drive from the forwards had stretched the Castres defence to breaking point.

Toulouse should have extended their lead in the 56th minute but David Skrela, on as a replacement for Elissalde, missed horribly with a drop goal attempt from right under the posts. Skrela's profligacy was immediately punished. Yannick Jauzion turned the ball over in the midfield and Caballero pounced, scooping up the loose ball before booting in on down the right flank. Romain Cabannes got to it first, helping it on with his right foot before diving on the ball just before it bounced out of play.

The normally deadly Teulet failed to convert, meaning Castres still trailed by a point. However, they knew that a losing bonus point would be enough to hold on to fourth, thus clinching a home draw in the play-off quarter-finals.

Toulouse needed a converted try and they poured forward in the dying minutes. Eventually, their pressure told. Mathieu Bonello was yellow carded on 76 minutes, the prop having been made the scapegoat for Castres' increasingly cynical play, and Toulouse wasted little time in taking advantage, driving their opponents back over their own line in a scrum before Maka collapsed on the ball. Skrela converted and Toulouse had done enough to secure an eight-point margin of victory which means that Castres will be back at the Stade Ernest Wallon in two weeks' time.

Perpignan were given a particularly easy ride by already-relegated Albi at the Stade Aime Giral, the reigning champions running in six tries during a facile 44-0 rout.

Rimas Alvarez Kairelis got the ball rolling after just six minutes of play before Jerome Porical touched down towards the end of a one-sided opening quarter. Albi enjoyed a decent spell of competitiveness thereafter but Perpignan blindside flanker put the outcome beyond all doubt when he crossed either side of half-time.

The game now won and the bonus point secured, the hosts made a number of changes and two of their replacements, Jean-Philippe Grandclaude and Phillip Burger, both touched down as Perpignan continued to rip Albi to shreds at will.

That bonus-point clinching win enabled to usurp Toulon at the summit in spite of the latter's dramatic 26-23 win over Brive at the Stade Amedee-Domenech.

Brive, who began the day eighth, had much to play for given that seventh place will yield a place in Europe next season should either Biarritz or Toulouse lift the Heineken Cup next month and the hosts had the better of a tight first half.

Indeed, Alexis Palisson opened the scoring with a penalty and although Fabien Cibray replied with a drop goal for Toulon, Scott Spedding crossed on 11 minutes to put Brive in control. Felipe Contepomi kicked Toulon to within a point but Fabrice Estebanez replied with two penalties of his own to send Brive in 16-9 ahead at the break.

However, Toulon came out firing after the restart, with Contepomi leveling matters after Fijian winger Gabirieli Lovobalavu had streaked over. Contepomi was on hand to add the extras once again when Sonny Bill Williams dotted just after the hour mark and the Argentine added a penalty moments later to put ten points between the sides.

Luciano Orquera set up a frantic finish when he converted after Horacio Agulla's 74th-minute touchdown but Toulon held on to secure a home draw in the semi-finals.

Clermont Auvergne had hoped to force their way into the top two, and secure themselves an extra week's rest in the process, but they were forced to settle for third in spite of their 26-19 victory over Biarritz at the Parc des Sports Aguilera.

Clermont shaded the first half. Damien Traille opened the scoring for Biarritz just three minutes in with a drop goal only to see the visitors' half-backs Morgan Parra and Brock James respond with penalties to edge Clermont in front. Dimitri Yachvili quickly levelled but Clermont pulled clear when Napoleoni Nalaga dived over. Gonzalo Canale then saw yellow but Clermont made light of their temporary numerical advantage, actually managing to extend their lead to ten points whilst their Fijian flyer was in the bin thanks to another penalty from James.

However, Yachvili stroked over a penalty just over 60 seconds into the second period before helping himself to a try five minutes later. The momentum now appeared to be with the home side but Nalaga struck again on 62 minutes and even though Yachvili kept Biarritz within striking distance with a penalty, Parra responded in kind to seal victory for Clermont.

The big positive for Biarritz was that their losing bonus point ensured that they held on to seventh place, meaning they could yet be playing European rugby next year even if they fail to go on and win the Heineken Cup.

Stade Francais, meanwhile, finished what has been a thoroughly disappointing season on something of a high by recording a comprehensive 41-17 victory over Racing Metro.

Stade started brightly, with Ollie Phillips diving over ten minutes in after Lionel Beauxis had gotten the home side up and running with a penalty. Racing, though, responded well to Phillips' try and Greg Goosen hauled them right back into the game when he touched down on 17 minutes.

Jonathan Wisniewski restored parity with a drop goal but Stade reclaimed the lead with their next meaningful attack as Tom Palmer flopped over. Beauxis converted and the home side went in seven points up at the interval.

Phillips bagged his second try of the game seven minutes into the second half only to see Jone Qovu Naliko hit right back for Racing. However, the visitors capitulated in the final quarter, coughing up further tries to Beauxis and Ignacio Mieres as Stade claimed a win which resulted in them finishing eighth.

Montauban's players did what they could to avoid demotion to the second division after beating Bayonne 22-8 at the Stade de Sapiac.

In a straight shoot-out for survival, Montauban always looked to have the edge and were good value for their win. They were indebted to a commanding first-half showing for their win. Julien Audy opened the scoring with a penalty eight minutes in before Jean-Emmanuel Cassin claimed the game's crucial first try at the end of the opening quarter.

Cedric Garcia got Bayonne off the mark with a penalty moments later but Audy responded with two of his own to send Montauban, who had begun the game in the drop zone, 11 points ahead at the break.

Jean-Philippe Viard edged them further towards safety with a drop goal early in the second half but Sam Gerber's 57th-minute try raised the prospect of a late Bayonne fightback. However, it never materialised and the visitors had long since given up on turning the game around by the time Julien Larroque dotted with just under two minutes to go.

Finally, in the one game which had absolutely nothing riding on it, Montpellier defeated Bourgoin 34-27 in an unsurprisingly open and exciting encounter at the Stade Yves du Manoir.

Montpellier had the better of the opening quarter and finished it eight points to the good, thanks to Manoel Dall'igna's try and some solid goal-kicking Federico Todeschini. However, the boot of Alberto di Bernardo kept Bourgoin in touch and he drew his side level right on half-time after the hosts, under intense forward pressure, had coughed up a penalty try.

Montpellier, though, made an explosive start to the second half, racking up three tries in the space of nine minutes through Dall'igna again, Joan Caudullo and Francois Trinh-Duc. Credit to Bourgoin, they kept battling and were rewarded for their persistence with tries from Bogdan Leonte and Sebastien Laloo which drew them to within seven points with 13 minutes to play. However, despite their best efforts they were unable to conjure up another converted try and in the end had to settle for a losing bonus point.

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