Top 14 Play-Offs
Toulouse set up Perpignan showdown
May 7, 2010
Clermont's Napolioni Nalaga and Racing's Sebastien Chabal vie for the ball © Getty Images
Toulouse remain on course for a remarkable European and domestic double after recording a commanding 35-12 victory over Castres in their Top 14 quarter-final clash at the Stade Ernest Wallon on Saturday afternoon.
Guy Noves' men, who progressed to the Heineken Cup final with an equally impressive victory over Leinster last weekend, ran in four tries in total, with Vincent Clerc helping himself to a brace and Maxime Medard and Yann David both scoring one apiece. Castres rarely threatened the Toulouse line and had just four penalties from the boot of Romain Teulet to show for their efforts.
Of course, these two sides had met just two weeks previously, on the final day of the regular season, with Toulouse claiming a 25-17 victory which guaranteed them home advantage in this fixture. That proved crucial, as did the fact that Toulouse managed to strike early.
Just over two minutes had elapsed when Castres scrum-half Alexandre Albouy took the ball into contact on the end of the Toulouse 22. It came out on the visitors' side but they failed to gather it, allowing Gregory Lamboley to pilfer possession back for Toulouse. The flanker bounded upfield and then nimbly stepped inside one man before off-loading to the supporting Byron Keller, who immediately sprayed it wide to Medard. The fullback cruised past Marc Andreu to score.
Toulouse struck again before the midway point of the first half, Clerc doing supremely well in using his strength and pace to great effect as he rounded both Teulet and Andreu on the outside to cross in the corner.
Teulet's ever-reliable boot kept a game - but clearly rattled - Castres side in the contest and they twice managed to draw to within eight points before Toulouse finally pulled clear in the final quarter.
After Elissalde had stroked over a penalty on the hour - his third of the afternoon - Clerc scored his second try of the afternoon on 63 minutes, the prolific winger putting the finishing touches on a quite majestic cross-field attack which had featured sublime off-loads from Medard and Vilimoni Delasau.
Five minutes later and they were over again, David sliding over in the right corner after more wonderfully intricate passing and incisive running lines, with replacement forwards Jean Bouilhou and Finau Maka both playing leading roles in the build-up.
Castres were by now a thoroughly frustrated bunch and this manifested itself in a late hit by Albouy on David after the latter had already touched down, thus sparking a minor melee which resulted in Castres lock Rodrigo Capo Ortega being sent to the bin.
Toulouse's interest in the fracas was half-hearted at best, though, as their thoughts had already turned to next weekend's mouth-watering semi-final showdown with Perpignan.
Clermont Auvergne battled to a 21-17 victory over Racing Metro at the Stade Marcel Michelin to book a Top 14 semi-final showdown with Toulon.
Five second-half penalties from the boot of scrum-half Morgan Parra and two earlier scores from fly-half Brock James ended Racing's season and set up a mouth-watering tie with Toulon at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard in St Etienne next Saturday. Racing's Geo Cronje crossed for the game's only try just before the break and the kicking exploits of fullback Jonathan Wisniewski and fly-half Frans Steyn edged the visitors towards a famous win but a yellow card for lock Santiago Dellape and a determined defensive effort thwarted their quest for domestic glory.
Only defeated once at home this season, Clermont dominated the opening period but failed to take a firm grip on the game due largely to the indifferent form of James. He failed with two first half efforts but was on target in the third minute to give his side an early lead. The hosts continued to press in an attempt to cement their lead but winger Julien Malzieu was bundled into touch after ten minutes and Napolioni Nalaga was also denied a score when he was ruled to have knocked on as he chased down a kick from centre Marius Joubert.
James doubled his side's lead just short of the half hour but the hosts were made to pay for not hammering home their advantage when Cronje struck as the half drew to a close. A well-worked move ended with centre Henry Chavancy feeding his South African team-mate for the score although the referee opted for confirmation from the Television Match Official. A strong catch and drive from Racing drew a penalty from the hosts shortly after the re-start and Wisnieski slotted to kick to take his side into the lead for the first time in the game.
More indiscipline from the home side's forwards gifted Steyn a chance to extend Racing's lead and he did so with a superbly-struck kick from long range. But Parra reduced the arrears with a notable penalty of his own just moments later.
Pressure at scrum time in the shadow of the posts soon had the Clermont defence creaking and drew a penalty but Racing opted for another scrum and they were eventually rewarded with a drop goal from Wisniewski.
Clermont responded with some momentum of their own only for their handling to let them down but they raised their game again only to be thwarted by Steyn who was penalised for not rolling away at the breakdown. Parra stepped up to notch his second penalty and narrow the gap to just two point but an incredible 55m drop goal from Steyn gave his side a little bit more breathing room.
The tit-for-tat exchange continued with a late hit on Parra by Dellape resulting in a yellow card for the Italian and another three points for the Clermont No.9 although Racing were convinced the ball had missed its target.
Clermont then thought they had notched an all-important try when Steyn spilled the ball in his own in-goal but play was brought back for an earlier knock on. A fired up Clermont summoned an extra power surge at the resulting scrum and the inevitable penalty allowed Parra to give his side the lead as the game entered the last ten minutes.
Racing replacement Andrew Mehrtens looked to strike back but his drop goal was wide of the mark and a high tackle on Clermont's Aurelien Rougerie by Steyn allowed Parra to edge his side nearer the semi-finals. A late penalty offered Racing the chance to take the game downfield for one last assault but try as they might they were unable to conjure a late turnaround.
Ask John answers questions on the Leopards' tour to Italy in 1974, brotherly Test sides, Pat McGrath, England's games against the Barbarians and Jacques Brunel
"We were only five metres away in the last Test of getting that try and with Jonny's inevitable conversion, we'd have won it." Tom Hamilton talks to Lions fullback Matt Perry
Toulon's Heineken Cup final victory over Clermont Auvergne may have ended a long title drought for the Top 14 club but two of their players are no strangers to success