French Top 14 - Round 1 Review
Toulouse hit Agen for six
August 14, 2010
Yannick Jauzion was on the scoresheet for Toulouse © Getty Images
Toulouse kicked off their Top 14 season in style by running six tries past a gutsy Agen in a 44-24 win at the Stade Ernest Wallon on Friday night.
The European champions hit the ground running despite being shorn of a number of big names, with newly-promoted Agen struggling to deal with their pace and invention. The visitors nevertheless showed glimpses of the attacking game which won them admirers in Pro D2, scoring three impressive tries through their pacy backline.
The first try of the new season went to Toulouse hooker William Servat, who burrowed over from close range after the brazen aggression of back-rowers Louis Picamoles and Sylvain Nicolas had punched holes in the Agen rearguard. A stunning piece of defence from Cedric Heymans, who smashed the ball from the grasp of Brice Dulin as the Agen wing streaked for an unguarded line, preserved Toulouse's lead but the visitors did find a response through a Valentin Courrent penalty.
Heymans combined with Yannick Jauzion to craft Toulouse's second try, with Yann David showing his strength to barge over despite the attentions of the hapless Dulan. Try number three arrived as David Skrela's impish up'n'under from inside the Agen 22 was snaffled by an onrushing Jauzion, who fell on the ball to score, before Maxime Medard exploited sloppy Agen handling to pounce in the corner for their fourth.
Romain Edmond Samuel bit back with a try after Toulouse's willingness to offload got the better of them but after the more scintillating backs play involving Skrela sent Clement Poitrenaud under the posts. Agen were run ragged by more quick handling for Medard's second but again showed their spirit with late tries to Miguel Avramovic and an opportunistic Samuel.
Despite their admirable riches, Toulon were not able to provide the same winning start, slipping to a 26-22 defeat to Bayonne at the Stade Mayol.
Toulon director of rugby Philippe Saint-Andre handed competitive debuts to a galaxy of stars, with former All Blacks prop Carl Hayman, Wallabies flanker George Smith, wing Rudi Wulf and England flyer Paul Sackey all making their bows in an underwhelming opener.
Bayonne were shorn of their main signings, former All Black Troy Flavell and Stormers fullback Joe Pietersen, but showed plenty of grit in an attempt to prove that they belong at the top level. Their relegation was prevented only by Montauban's administrative demotion last season and they are apparently keen to make a fist of it in 2010-11.
Toulon's main threat came from the tee and the boot of fly-half Felipe Contepomi, who landed 17 points after stepping for an injured Jonny Wilkinson, as despite their attacking arsenal they were limited to a late penalty try. Bayonne crossed the chalk twice through wing Yohan Huget, with Benjamin Boyet atoning for a second-half yellow with three penalties and two conversions.
Michael Cheika's reign as Stade Francais coach got off to a winning start as his men cruised to a 43-12 win over Bourgoin at Stade Charlety.
The former Leinster coach has been tasked with restoring pride to the Parisian giants after their dismal season in 2009-10 and his side had too much for a Bourgoin side who were fearing for their place in the league a matter of weeks ago after further dealings with the dreaded DNACG, France's financial watchdog.
A burst of tries either side of the half-time whistle blew the game open, with France hooker Dimitri Szarzewski opening Stade's account after 38 minutes. His international team-mate Mathieu Bastareaud capitalised immediately after the restart and Bourgoin's fate was sealed when the superb Sergio Parisse, entrusted this season with the captain's armband, pounced for their third.
With Bourgoin generating nothing aside from four penalties from Alberto di Bernardo and replacement Matias Viazzo, Stade pulled clear in the closing stages as winger Julien Arias and Scotland international fullback Hugo Southwell helped themselves to five-pointers.
The surprise of the round came at the Stade Marcel Deflandre, where newly-promoted La Rochelle trumped last season's surprise package Castres 22-17 on Saturday night.
The home side survived a late scare when Castres fly-half Cameron McIntyre scooted over for a try with just three minutes left on the clock. They held on by their fingernails, with replacement Andres Bordoy in the sin bin, to record a morale-boosting victory in what will be a long season.
Fullback Sebastien Boboul did their main damage with a try, two conversions and a penalty, with his early score being supplemented by another from scrum-half Benjamon Ferrou and the winner from veteran Fijian wing Norman Ligairi.
Castres made a fist of it in the second-half with a try to No.8 Joe Tekori, who saw yellow just four minutes after crossing the chalk.
Big-spending Racing Metro secured the fastest start of the new season as France 'A' fly-half Jonathan Wisniewski pounced for a try against Brive after only a minute. Pierre Berbizier's side hung on for a 23-18 victory at the Stade Amedee Domenech but were made to sweat by the home side's French wing Alexis Palisson, who kicked five second-half penalties to haul in the deficit.
Wisniewski finished with 18 points of his own after landing three penalties and converting both his and Lionel Cronje's tries, with the capital city side thankful for a positive end to the week after not-so-thinly veiled criticism from the South Africa camp over the management of Frans Steyn's Tri-Nations call-up.
France legend Fabien Galthie was not as lucky as Cheika, watching his Montpellier side slip to a 30-22 defeat to Biarritz as he looks to reverse their slump. The visitors outscored their hosts three tries to two but were made to pay, as so many teams have been in the past, by the boot of Biarritz scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili. The No.9 slotted 20 points from the tee to complement scores from wing Phillip Bidabe and his halfback partner Julien Peyrelongue. Montpellier's responses came from fullback Jean-Matthieu Alcalde, No.8 Sakiusa Matadigo and replacement Pierre Bernard.