Top 14 - Round 1
Castres open title defence with narrow loss
August 17, 2013
Toulon's Jonny Wilkinson exploits some space in the Montpellier defence © Getty Images
Castres kicked off their defence of the Top 14 title with a narrow 26-23 defeat to Perpignan at the Stade Aime Giral in a match that saw three yellow cards.
The visitors struck early through Marcel Garvey with the boot of scrum-half Rory Kockott cementing their advantage but with Castres fullback Romain Martial in the sin-bin, Perpignan battled back with a try from Sofiane Guitoune and the kicking exploits of James Hook and Camille Lopez ensuring they ended the first half on level terms at 13-13.
Hook edged Perpignan in front after the break only for Kockott and a try from Piula Faasalele to turn the game on its head. Perpignan's hopes seemed to fade with a yellow card for Dewald Duvenage but Castres were also soon down to 14-men following the sin-binning of flanker Yannick Caballero. Perpignan then rallied once more to snatch the win thanks to a Camille Lopez try and Hook's conversion.
On Friday night, last season's beaten finalists Toulon and Montpellier battled to a 22-22 draw in at the Stade Yves du Manoir. A dominant Montpellier powered to a 13-3 lead at the break thanks to a try from winger Yoan Audrin with impressive scrum-half Jonathan Pelissie slotting the conversion and two penalties from the tee. Toulon were largely frustrated by the home side's well-drilled defence and saw a try from fullback Delon Armitage ruled out for a forward pass.
As a result they had to rely on fly-half Jonny Wilkinson to keep them in the game with their only score of the opening period and he reduced the arrears shortly after the re-start with his second penalty. A drop goal from Montpellier fly-half Francois Trinh-Duc gave the hosts some more breathing room but Wilkinson continued to chip away at their lead by getting the better of a kicking duel with replacement Montpellier scrum-half Benoît Paillaugue. Toulon centre Maxime Mermoz pounced for a crucial intercept score as the game entered the final 10 minutes and Wilkinson added the extras to ensure last season's beaten finalists escaped with a share of the spoils.
Bayonne head the table after the first round of match thanks to their 39-11 victory over newcomers Oyonnax. Former All Blacks winger Joe Rokocoko got the home side on their way at the Stade Jean-Dauger before Martin Bustos Moyano put the boot into the visitors' hopes. Oyonnax showed signs of life in the second half with a try from Jean-François Coux but they were soon swept away thanks to scores from Gabiriele Lovobalavu, Opeti Fonua and Guillaume Rouet.
Bordeaux-Begles sit second following their 31-25 victory over Toulouse at the Stade Chaban-Delmas. A try from winger Metuisela Talebula helped propel the home side into a 16-12 lead at the break with Toulouse's cause not helped by a yellow card for scrum-half Jean Marc Doussain. Toulouse battled hard after the break and replacement Hosea Gear got a try on debut but Bordeaux-Begles scrum-half Pierre Barnard was not to be denied with five second half penalties helping him to a 26-point haul.
Star-studded Racing Metro also made a winning start to the new campaign with a 19-14 victory against Brive. Ireland fly-half Jonathan Sexton kicked eight points in his Top 14 debut including a conversion of a Benjamin Lapeyre. Brive also crossed for a first half try through Malakai Bakaniceva and threatened an upset in the second half with two Gaëtan Germain penalties but Jonathan Wisniewski steered the hosts home.
Clermont Auvergne started their season with a 22-18 win away at Biarritz on Saturday. Clermont took control of the game early on with Brock James knocking over a pair of penalties and they stretched their lead further in the 20th minute when Regan King took advantage of space in the Biarritz defence to go over for the first try of the game. James slotted the conversion and Clermont took the 13-0 lead. Biarritz did manage to muster some points on the board before half-time through a penalty from Dimitri Yachvili and a drop-goal from Daniel Waenga but a further penalty from James gave the away side a commanding 16-6 lead at the break.
But it was Biarritz who got the first points on the board in the second-half with Yachvili intercepting Julian Bonnaire's loose pass to go the distance and reduce the lead to five points. But James soon pegged Biarritz back with a pair of penalties. In the last ten minutes, Arnaud Heguy was sin-binned for Biarritz and Julien Bardy saw yellow for Clermont and it was Biarritz who profited with Teddy Thomas grabbing a try in the closing stages of the match to secure the home side a losing bonus point.
In the weekend's other game, Grenoble sprung a surprise with a 19-16 victory over Stade Francais at the Stade Lesdiguières. Julien Dupuy got the better of a kicking duel with Valentin Courrent to give Stade a narrow lead at the break. But a try from Anthony Hegarty and two further Courrent penalties propelled them to the win with Julien Arias try not enough to prevent defeat for Stade.
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