Friday, December 31, 2010

Top 14 - Round 14

Wednesday was the return of the Top 14 following a break for the Heineken Cup and the chrstmas weekend. All 14 teams played with Argentine players involved in every match as Argentina´s contribution to global rugby was once again highly visible in the French Top 14. The Americas region also had international players from Canada, the United States and Uruguay in action. The top two sides won again which opened a slight gap between them and the chasing pack which goes as far down as tenth position, i.e. Perpignan.

One of the key matches was second placed Montpellier vs Biarritz which featured the return of French international flyhalf François Trinh-Duc. With his return Pumas centre Santiago Fernández played inside centre in partnership with USA outside centre Seta Tuilevuka to form a worldclass 10-12-13 partnership. Trinh-Duc scored the only try of the match for Montpellier but his side nevertheless won 22-16. Uncapped Argentine winger Martín Bustos Moyano was once again the man for Montpellier as he kicked 17 points. The selectors opting for the likes of Horacio Agulla and Lucas Borges ahead of Bustos Moyano is increasingly looking problematic. Pumas prop Juan Figallo was also in action for the home team whilst Biarritz also had a Puma as Marcelo Bosch, for the second consecutive match, played 13.

Bayonne hosted the highly rated Toulon targetting a victory to alter their up-and-down season. They were successful as they pulled off a 20-9 victory. Despite winning, the key for Bayonne was the one man advantage they had when Toulon secondrower Jocelino Suta was redcarded in the 17th minute. England´s Johnny Wilkinson left the field at half time to be replaced by Argentine captain Felipe Contepomi at flyhalf but the Puma would only last five minutes after being forced to leave the field injured. Contepomi´s Pumas team mate, Juan Fernández Lobbe returned for Toulon for the first time since the November Internationals and because his sides two goalkickers were missing he had an attempt at three points and was successful. Fernández Lobbe combined with former South African international Joe van Niekerk and former Australian international George Smith in the backrow. Smith is rumoured to be leaving Toulon to play for the Sanyo Wild Knights in Japan´s Top League.

Top 14 leaders and current Heineken Cup champions, Toulouse travelled to neighbouring Agen and won comfortably. Former French international flyhalf, David Skrela scored 20 of Toulouse´s 25 points as the star-studded South-Western French side came out on top 25-8. The remaining five points were scored by French test winger Vincent Clerc. Two Pumas featured for the winning team with the worldclass Patricio Albacete putting in another solid performance in the secondrow and Argentine international Nicolas Vergallo playing scrumhalf. Pumas hooker Alberto Vernet Basulado is set to return from injury for Toulouse. Former Pumas centre Miguel Avramovic played outside centre for Agen but USA international winger, Kevin Swiryn was left out of the team.

The bottom placed side, Bourgoin played host to one of the seasons most inconsistant teams, Stade Français. The western French side look highly likely to drop down to the Pro d2 after being unable to compete with most teams. The home side featured two Argentine players in flyhalf Alberto Di Bernardo and repalcement centre Matias Viazzo. Six Argentine players were in the 22 for Stade Français with Argentina born Italian captain Sergio Parisse scoring a try. He was joined in the backrow by Juan Leguizamón while two props featured with Pumas loosehead prop Rodrigo Roncero playing in the 1 shirt for Stade Français and Pedro Ledesma was on the bench as was Pumas fullback Martín Rodríguez Gurruchaga. One of the best players for Argentina in 2010, Gonzalo Tiesi played outside centre.

Paris´s other side, Racing Metro were expected to come out on top against one of this seasons struggling sides, Brive. Despite playing at home at the Yves du Manoir and having a worldclass backline with Juan Martín Hernández back playing flyhalf the Parisians were unable to win and the game ended up in a dull 6-6 draw. Hernández was joined by two other Pumas players in tighthead prop Juan Pablo Orlandi and backrower Alvaro Galindo. Whilst the backs were all leading players the forwards were understrength and this certainly had an impact on how the match went. Brive played with three Argentine players on the bench with both Pablo Henn and Pablo Cardinali coming on in the second half to bolster the frontrow. Despite also being on the bench for Brive, Argentine scrumhalf Agustín Figuerola did not feature for his club. The draw helps out Brive, who have been in the relegation zone, but not by much as they are set to play away to Perpignan on Sunday.

Castres had the easiest match of the round, hosting the newcomers to the Top 14 in their first ever season - La Rochelle. Uruguayan international Rodrigo Capó Ortega came on in the second half for Castres as they secured a 25-10 victory. The visitors had two non-capped Argentine frontrowers. Andrés Bordoy was in the starting lineup and Franco Pani came on in the tenth minute of the secondhalf. Castres seemingly threw everything at La Rochelle and will likely field a weakened side for Sunday´s tough away assignment vs Toulouse.

In a rematch of last years Top 14 final champions Clermont hosted the beaten finalists and 2009 champions Perpignan. Clermont continued their outstanding home record but it was not easy as they won a close match 22-16 with both teams scoring one try each. Clermont´s try was scored by Argentine born Italian international centre Gonzalo Canale who played inside centre. The eternal Pumas hooker, Mario Ledesma also played as he came on in the second half. The most important player from the Americas, however, was Canadian international secondrower Jamie Cudmore who returned from suspension. Former Pumas secondrower Rimas Alvarez did not play for the visitors nor did his teammate from Rugby World Cup 2007, Clermont´s Martín Scelzo who is out injured.

Résumé du match ASM USAP Décembre 2010

Top 14 Table

1 Toulouse 47

2 Montpellier 45
3 Racing Metro 41
4 Castres 39
5 Biarritz 39
6 Clermont 38
7 Bayonne 36
8 Toulon 36
9 Stade Français 33
10 Perpignan 29
11 Brive 21
12 Agen 20
13 La Rochelle 19
14 Bourgoin 10

Round 15 Fixtures
Sunday at 15:00 Agen vs Bayonne, Stade Armandie

Sunday at 15:00 Toulon vs Biarritz, Stade Mayol
Sunday at 15:00 Perpignan vs Brive, Stade Aimé Giral
Sunday at 15:00 Clermont vs Bourgoin, Stade Marcel-Michelin
Sunday at 16:35 La Rochelle vs Stade Français, Stade Marcel Deflandre
Sunday at 18:30 Racing Métro 92 vs Montpellier, Stade Yves du Manoir
Sunday at 20:45 Toulouse vs Castres, Stade Ernest-Wallon

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