Top 14: Emotions boil over as play-off race tightens further

Lawrence Nolan

On a weekend where coaches got snippy with match commentators, administrators failed to turn up in court, it was difficult to pick winners and losers in the Top 14.

Perhaps La Rochelle were the big losers, as they crashed out of the play-off places after succumbing to a 23-16 defeat at Toulouse on Saturday night, having been in third place at the start of the weekend.

Shots fired

But the Rochelais themselves were not the story, nor in all reality was a game which started brightly but turned into a grind in the second half, which Toulouse won 6-0.

The story was the peculiar and distinctly precious spat between Toulouse coach Ugo Mola and television channel Canal+, with the former letting rip at the latter’s pitchside reporter for the channel’s perceived negative attitude towards the French giants.

“We are looking for motivation everywhere, but it is true that the journalists of your company have really been looking for all your consultants to try to say ‘the Toulouse hole’, and that we would not get out of it, that it would be very complicated.

“So we’re happy to beat a team that’s in good shape, or even very fit, and then we’re going to switch to the European Cup hoping that the environment in our room is a little more positive than yours.”

Sort of fair enough to an extent, even if it seemed a little OTT. But what really got tongues wagging was Canal+ editor Eric Bayle the next evening. Speaking before Bordeaux-Begles’ clash with Toulon, Bayle responded to Mola’s emotional broadside thus: “With two days to go, the standings are incredibly tight. For the moment, no team is qualified, not even the leader, Montpellier.

“Except, of course, for Toulouse, because although they are not mathematically qualified, if you dare to talk as though it might not happen you could upset their manager, who finds that derogatory.”

Maybe that could have carried on, but Bayle would get a load more material for his hacks that same night, as Bordeaux coach Christophe Urios left his stuttering squad in no doubt as to his displeasure after they fell to a 29-16 defeat at home to Toulon – their seventh defeat in nine games.

“We had an opportunity today, we let it go,” he fumed.

“We came out for the second half badly, just like in Montpellier (last week). You have to do the job. Too many players didn’t do it, it’s infuriating.”

The opportunity referred to by Urios was that of actually taking over at the top of the table despite the indifferent form, after Montpellier – fielding a mildly rotated team – crashed to a 43-20 defeat in Lyon.

A 10-minute three-try salvo in the middle of the second half secured the win, and a bonus point, for the home team, who leapfrogged Toulouse into fifth spot.

Away from all the palaver, Castres shredded Biarritz 48-13 in Biarritz, consigning the latter to a long-awaited relegation and doing their own chances of a home playoff no harm at all in the process.

That the scoreline was so large is all the more remarkable for the fact that Castres have made a speciality of winning games marked by scores divisible by three in recent weeks, but Biarritz’s defence was dire.

On Monday, former players and warring administrators Nicolas Brusque and David Couzinet were due their day in court to learn which would become the actual president of the club. Neither bothered to turn up.

Relegation, court cases for which the administrators do not show up, out of favour with the municipality: Biarritz’s story of this season has not been a happy one, and the end of it all is not in sight.

Racing 92’s late charge towards the top of the table continued with a 42-21 win at Pau, in which the home side ran out of puff just when the game might have been for the taking.

Antoine Hastoy’s penalty in the 47th minute actually had Pau 21-20 in the lead, but tries Ibrahim Diallo and a killer try from Juan Imhoff took the momentum away. The bonus point try moments from time by Kevin le Guen was pure icing. Racing go fourth, and look good value for it.

Elsewhere in the lower reaches of the table, Perpignan’s 27-10 win over Brive means they are not technically consigned to the relegation playoff just yet, although they are still three behind Brive and have the tougher run-in.

Finally, in the Top 14‘s most irrelevant game, Clermont’s 29-26 win over Stade Francais maintains the former’s purely mathematical chances of making the play-offs and ends the latter’s.

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