Sunday, May 15, 2011

Top 14 Barrage

Rugby's premier domestic championship, the Top 14 is down to four following the barrage matches played on Friday and Saturday to determine which two sides would be joining Toulouse and Racing Metro in the Top 14 Semi Finals. Four countries from the Americas, the only region to never have hosted a Rugby World Cup or be in line to do so before 2019, had players in the starting XV. International players from Argentina, Canada, the United States and Uruguay were all on show as were international players from all over the world. The increasingly global sport of rugby obviously needs to look beyond the traditional borders of the Tri-Nations and the old Five-Nations who come September 2011 will have not only hosted every Rugby World Cup to date but all aside from South Africa have will have hosted matches in multiple Rugby World Cup´s. Argentine players are guaranteed to feature in the Final and will yet again be involved in the winning of the trophy, the Bouclier de Brennus.

The first barrage match was played on Friday with Clermont playing host to Biarritz at the Stade Marcel Michelin. The visitors had the bettrer of play and looked to have control of the game at halftime as the held an eleven point lead. Unfortunately for Biarritz the South-Western French sdie was unable to score at all in the second half. The first points of the match were scored by Clermont fullback, Anthony Floch who slotted a penalty goal in the thirteenth minute. Biarrtiz hit back with a penalty goal to French international scrumhalf Dimitri Yachvili in the twentieth minute and then enjoyed a near on twenty minute period of domination, scoring two tries. Yachvili went over for a try in the twenty-ninth minute and flyhalf Julien Peyrelongue scored in the thirty-seventh minute. With Yachvili converting both tries, Biarritz were in firm control leading 17-3. Yachvili´s opposite, Morgan Parra, cut made it 17-6 at the interval as he closed the half with a penalty of his own.

The second half was vastly different to the first with the home side pulling off a great come back by scoring twenty-one points without conceeding any. Clermont´s three tries to Australian Brock James and the unwanted French international duo of Julien Malzieu and Lapandry Alexandre Clermont´s saw the home side advance to the semi-final stage. The 27-17 win means Biarritz are eliminated and their season is over. Clermont will now face Toulouse in Marseilles on May 27th in the first semi final. Argentine born Italian international centre, Gonzalo Canale was a key player for Clermont at inside centre. Canale was joined by veteran Canadian international secondrower Jamie Cudmore and also the long time serving Argentine frontrow pair of hooker Mario Ledesma and tighthead prop Martín Scelzo. All players are certainties to feature at Rugby World Cup 2011. Biarritz also had two Pumas with Marcelo Bosch starting at centre and Eusebio Guiñazú coming on as a secondhalf replacement.

On Saturday Castres hosted Montpellier in the second barrage match with the winner advancing to face Racing Metro in a semi final also to be played at the Stade Velodrome in Marseilles. In a match dominated by poor ball-handling skills, a young uncapped Argentine player was the hero. A year ago Martín Bustos Moyano was playing as an amateur in the Argentine city of Córdoba but after impressing for Los Pampas XV in the Vodacom Cup he signed a two year deal for Montpellier for whom he has had the season of his life. Bustos Moyano scored all eighteen of Montpellier´s points, all from his boot as he slotted six penalties to see Montpellier qualify for the Top 14 semi-finals for the first time in its history.

The game had two tries, both scored by Castres as backrower Ibrahim Diarra scored the games first try in just the fourth minute while the second was a penalty try in the final minute of the first half as Montpellier did everything they could to defend their line as the scrum was being bullied all over the park. Argentina international prop, Juan Figallo was off the field having been yellowcarded for killing the ball in a ruck close to his own try line. It was one of three yellow cards given in the match. Figallo had a good game in general, and appeared to again be a better candidate than Martín Scelzo as a starter for Argentina at the World Cup as his work rate saw him ever-present around the park. Argentina international centre, Santiago Fernández had another good game at 12 for Montpellier as he worked well in defense and was occassionally dangerous with ball in hand. Castres also had a South American in its starting lineup as former Uruguayan international captain, Rodrigo Capó Ortega started in the secondrow.

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