The twentieth round of the French domestic competition, the Top 14 Orange was played on Friday and Saturday and continued the unpredictability of the season with teams continuing to move up and down the ladder. Biarritz are no longer in the relegation zone and have gone four plints clear of Bayonne and are now tied with Perpignan. The ease of the teams win suggests that Biarritz will overtake Brive and Bordeaux shortly. Lyon are now falling behind and have eight points to make up just to get outside of the relegation zone. At the other end of the table, the top two remain well in control and both Toulouse and Clermont won again despite missing a huge contingent of players to Six Nations duty. Toulon have guaranteed themselves a place in the barrage play-off´s while Montpellier look all but guaranteed to join them. Castres may well fall behind both Paris teams when the Top 14 continues on March 24. The round saw many Pumas players in action with a special performance from Juan Imhoff being the highlight.
Racing Métro 22-13 Bordeaux
|Imhoff was the star in Paris|
The Paris based Racing Métro are on track for a place in the Top 14 play-off´s but continue to lack the required cohesion to be a genuine title contender. The teams home win over the mid-tabled Bordeaux-Begles moves Racing Métro to within one win over overtaking the on-form Montpellier and the unpredictable Castres. Racing had four Pumas in action. Juan Imhoff started on the left wong and played the full match. The speedster showed why he has attracted long term offers from a variety of clubs as he broke the line on multiple occassions and could have created many times had he had backs in support. His teams only try was set up as he broke free down the left flank. Juan Martín Hernández started at flyhalf but left the field after 18 minutes as a precaution for a possible injury. It was confirmed to not be seriuos after the match. Backrower Alvaro Galindo was on the bench as was tighthead prop Juan Orlandi. Both came on as second half replacements. The Argentine-Italian, Santiago Dellape, started in the secondrow for the winners while Rafael Carballo came on in the 50th minute for Bordeaux-Begles.
Agen 20-29 Clermont
|Avramovic pushing for a Pumas return|
Agen came close but were unable to win or pick up a bonus point against the depleted visitors. Australian, Brock James had a solid showing and showed again why he is a better option for the Wallabies than the majority of flyhalves playing for Australian teams in Super Rugby. Agen had two of its three Argentine players in its team with Miguel Avramovic playing the full match at outside centre and Belisario Agulla being named, but being unuised, from the bench. Canada´s Jamie Cudmore did not feature for the visitors while Córdoba´s Gonzalo Canale was in action for Italy vs Wales. The USA´s Kevin Swiryn continues his rehabilitaion and so remains out of action for Agen.
Toulouse 34-27 Castres
|Mr. Reliable: Patricio Albacete|
Top of the table Toulouse were pushed hard by a Castres side who went against stereotypes and ran in tries. The French Champions survived by fielding players out of position such as former French inside centre, Yannick Jauzion being used at fullback. Toulouse were hardly fielding a weak side, however, as thirteen of the fifteen starting players are internationals. Both teams had a South American starting in the secondrow with Patricio Albacete going head-to-head with Uruguay´s Rodrigo Capó Ortega in the number five shirt. Pumas scrumhalf, Nicolás Vergallo was left outside of Toulouse´s match day squad.
Biarritz 26-11 Brive
A strong home win may have turned around Biarritz´s season entirely. The Basque team made the grave mistake of not signing medical jokers to replace players missing to World Cup duty in the early stages of the season. the consequence was that Biarritz were vastly depleted and have only now got clear of the relegation zone. Two of Biarritz´s next three matches Top 14 Orange are against the bottom two sides which should alter the teams season altogether. Biarritz fielded four players from the Americas in its starting XV while Brive fielded one. Francisco Gomez Kodela started at tighthead prop and played 45 minutes before being substituted. Patricio Albacete´s Pumas secondrower colleague, Manuel Carizza played 55 minutes and outside centre, Marcelo Bosch played the first half. USA Eagels winger, Taku Ngwenya played the full 80 minutes. Brive fielded Agustín Figuerola in its starting lineup and the scrumhalf played 63 minutes. Once predicted as the man to replace Agustín Pichot but not selected for New Zealand 2011, Figuerola now looks like a strong chance of an international return for Argentina.
Montpellier 37-26 Bayonne
|Bustos Moyano was again impressive|
The two clubs underline the importance of smart recruitment. While Montpellier has been buying up unwanted and, in many cases, unknown players and getting great use from them Bayonne has been on a spending spree and it has proven to be an utter failure, The clubs signing of former All Blacks and Wallabies has failed to give Bayonne a good team and the club now looks like a probable bet to join Lyon in being relegated to the Pro d2. All of Montpellier´s points were scored by players who are either playing pro for the first time or failed to get sufficient game time at previous clubs. One of the teams tries went to former French backrower, Remy Martín who had a poor few years at Bayonne and is now looking better at Montpellier. Five Pumas styarted for Montpellier with another taking his place on the bench. The star was a player who missed out on being selected for Rugby World Cup 2011, Martín Bustos Moyano. The Córdoba winger kicked 19 points as he continues to press hard for not only a call up to Los Pumas but a place in the starting XV. Santiago Fernández started at flyhalf and Lucas González Amorosino played fullback. Fernández landed a firsthalf penalty goal. Juan Figallo started the match at tighthead prop, the position which he made his own at New Zealand 2011, but the opposite side of the scrum from where Montpellier has been using him since his arriveal at the club two seasons ago.He played 60 minutes as did hooker Agustín Creevy while Maximilano Bustos came on as a replacement in the final minute.
Stade Français 40-19 Lyon
|Martín Rodríguez Gurruchaga|
Key performances from the Stade Français Argentine 10-12 partnership of Felipe Contepomi and Martín Rodríguez Gurruchaga will have made Santiago Phelan a happy man. Contepomi slotted 20 points for then Parisians while Rodríguez Gurruchaga was a try scorer. The home sides bonus point win sees Stade Français almost return to the play-off´s zone. The team looks certain to finish in the top half o the standings with a miracle required for the club to finish anywhere lower than eighth. The match also featured three other Pumas players with Juan Manuel Leguizamón playing the full match in Lyon colors against his former club. Statde Français again fielded two Argentine props in its starting lineup with Rodrigo Roncero playing loosehead prop and Francisco Nahul Tetaz playing tighthead prop. Roncero played the full match while Nauhl Tetaz lasted 55 minutes. Centre Gonzalo Tiesi continues his rehabilitation. Scott LaValla was on the bench with the USA secondrower coming on in the 58th minute.
Perpignan 22-22 Toulon
Perpignan will be unhappy with the draw but happy to have got two points out of it as the former powerhouses and 2009 French Champions are in for an extremely nervous end to the season. With Clermont and Toulouse begin two of Perpignan´s next three Top 14 Orange opponents it is certainly worrying times. Lyon could even catch up. The Pumas backrower duo of Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe and Leonardo Senatore were not involved in the match for the visitors.
Racing Métro vs Bordeaux-Begles
Toulouse vs Castres
1 Toulouse 73
2 Clermont 69
3 Toulon 58
4 Montpellier 52
5 Castres 51
6 Racing Métro 49
7 Stade Français 47
8 Agen 44
9 Bordeaux-Begles 37
10 Brive 37
11 Biarritz 34
12 Perpignan 34
13 Bayonne 30
14 Lyon 26
* Play-offs zone and Heineken Cup Qualification
* Facing relegation
* Play-offs zone and Heineken Cup Qualification
* Facing relegation