Sunday, April 21, 2013

Top 14 - Round 25 Wrap

Photo: ESPN Scrum
Nahuel Lobo continues to look more and more like a long term frontrow Puma
Clermont 39-17 Toulouse
With Clermont Auvergne set to face Munster at the Stade de la Mosson next Saturday the club can only be confident after having dispatched last seasons Top 14 champions Toulouse yesterday afternoon. The twenty-two point victory was clinical and certainly send warnings to all Top 14 and Heineken Cup Semi Finalists that the form team in Europe right now comes from Central France. Clermont´s emphatic home win sees the club tise to the top of the standings ahead of Toulon but neither side will host a Semi Final due to the LNR´s use of neutral venues with both matches this year to be played in Nantes. Unlike Clermont, Munster lost its match this weekend after being upset by Welsh strugglers the Newport-Gwent Dragons. As such there is plenty of reason to believe that the favorite to win next weekends Heineken Cup Semi Final in Montpellier is Clermont. Canada´s veteran secondrower Jamie Cudmore is likely to start for Clermont against Munster as he did this weekend against Toulouse.

Bordeaux 16-0 Biarritz
The Stade Chaban Delmas has hosted its share of big matches. It has plauyed host to Top 14 Semi Finals,  a Heineken Cup Final and Rugby World Cup matches. It has been used similar to Toulouse´s Le Stadium this season by Bordeaux-Begles at with good effect with the team attracting big crowds for its matches played at the largest stadium in Aquitaine. Considering the region of Aquitaine is also home to four other Top 14 clubs this season it would appear that Bordeaux is on its way to becoming a leading force and that when the club investing in superior forwards it will finish far further up the standings. While Bordeaux survived relegation neither Agen nor Mont de Marsan were so lucky and with neither having a city the city of Bordeaux or a stadium such as the Stade Chaban Delmas to make use of their chances of being competitive in the future appear hard to guarantee. Aquitaine is also home to Bayonne and Biarritz as well as a host of former Top 14 clubs including Dax and Pau.

The match played on Saturday featured a massive crowd and had four Pumas on the field. The English bound Marcelo Bosch started for Biarritz at fullback and was joined by Francisco Gómez Kodela in the starting lineup. They were joined by USA winger Taku Ngwenya who was on the bench while two Pumas were replacements for the winners. Nicolás Sánchez came off the bench in the 49th minute to see his side home. He kicked two penalties. Rafael Carballo was also in the match day 23. Of the four all are likely to get game time for Argentina this year. Bosch, Gómez Kodela and Sánchez should be in the squad for the Rugby Championship while Carballo is likely to feature in the June test matches.

Agen 23-15 Perpignan
An emotional crowd gathered at the Stade Armandie in Agen to fairwell the home side from the Top 14. At the end of the match the players were in tears as they have been relegated to the Pro d2 and a number of players are likely to move on to rival Top 14 clubs. Despite relegation the match itself was far from being a disaster as Agen´s win eliminated Perpignan from the play-off´s. In losing and Perpignan is out of the running which means the top six has been defined with Toulouse ad Castres likely to host barrage play-off´s against Montpellier ad Racing Métro. Confirmation of who plays´s against who will be made in the final round of the Top 14 in two weeks time. With three Pumas playing for Agen it will be interesting to see what happens to all of them next season. Of three three two were in the starting lineup and former Pumas test centre Miguel Avramovic impressed by scoreing the first try of the match. Belisario Agulla started on the right wing and this past week he admited to the Argentine media that he is considering his options despite still having one year to go on his contract. Esteban Lozada was on the bench for this match and like Avramovic and Agulla he should be in line for a place in the Pumas squad to face England and Georgia.

Bayonne 32-26 Montpellier
A packed Stade Jean-Dauger in Bayonne was treated to an entertaining match between two clubs set to announce a host of transfers. Bayoone has already confirmed the arrival of former Crusaders and Blues play-maker Stephen Brett and is likely to confrim the arrival of Argentina´s Martín Bustos Moyano, amongst others, shortly. Bustos Moyano was unused from the bench in Saturday´s match but Montpellier, nevertheless, had a usual strong representation of Pumas on the field. Santiago Fernández started at flyhalf while a man possibly in line to captain Argentina at Rugby World Cup 2015 in England, Agustín Creevy, was the starting hooker. Creevy was joined by Maximilano Bustos in the starting frontrow who should join Creevy in the team to face South Africa in Bloemfontein to begin the Rugby Championship. Another who could well make the match-day 23 is Nahuel Lobo who was a replacement for Montpellier and out scrumaged former All Blacks prop Neemia Tialata. With Marcos Ayerza in doubt for the start of the tournament the possibility exists to have an all-Montpellier frontrow though Creevy will be playing the 2013-2014 season in England for Worcester.

Grenoble 25-24 Toulon
With Grenoble v Toulon being a derby of sorts the match was moved to the largest stadium in Grenoble, the Stade des Alpes. Both clubs are from outside of South-Western France and had a rivalry in the Pro d2 which could now spill over to become a Top 14 classic. But the chances of Grenoble being competitive appear, in theory, to be low given the players available to the two teams. Grenoble fielded a team made up of largely unknown players while Toulon´s team was packed with international players but was, nonetheless, far from being at full strength. Amongst the missing players were Frédéric Michalak and Jonny Wilkinson which saw Matt Giteau moved to start at flyhalf. He had a forgettable match to make himself the Australian Michalak. His unforgivable missed penalty cost Toulon the match as Grenoble was able to score a late try to win the match by a single point. Giteau has not been without comprable moments in his career. In 2009 his failure to convert opportunities saw Australia lose against Scotland. There was a Pumas on the bench of either team with Joaquín Tuculet providing cover in the backthree and centres for Grenoble and Pumas captain Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe covering the backrow for Toulon. Tuculet could well be starting at 15 or 13 for Argentina in June.

Castres 44-17 Mont de Marsan
Castres found form to play some of its best rugby this season as it dispatched the bottom placed Mont de Marsan. It secured Castres´ place in the barrage and increased the probablity of Castres hosting one of the two matches. Starting in the secondrow for Castres was former Uruguayan captain Rodrigo Capó Ortega who was outstading for Uruguay playing number 8 at Rugby World Cup 2003. He could play again at Rugby World Cup 2014 and the chances of this happening will be increased or made impossible in the coming ten days. Chile will host Brazil to open the 2015 South American Rugby Championship which doubles as the final stage of South American Rugby World Cup Qualification. Uruguay will face both Chile and Brazil in Montevideo wth the matches amazingly being played two days apart. Whether or not Capó Ortega will be involved in the tournament remains unknown but Castres will not be playing next weekend which means there is nothing stopping him from representing his country.

Paris 19-16 Racing Métro
Stade Français Paris has been having a terrible season but one far from being its worst. It has lost far too many matches and, in losing, many have been by big scores. The club has had its share of bad luck though as it has suffered from injuries. In its last home match of the season the Parisians hosted neighbors Racing Métro at France´s largest stadium the Stade de France. As is customary the public responded well and will likely continue to do so into the future by Stade Français is in dire need of recruiting some world class players. It will be without Felipe Contepomi next season as the former Argentine captain leaves Europe after fourteen years to return to Buenos Aires. He started the match at flyhalf and formed a 10-12 combination with Martín Rodríguez Gurruchaga who, like Contepomi, recently came back from a long injury lay-off. They both performed well in Stade Français´ upset win over a star-studded Racing Métro sie which including three Pumas in the starting lineup. Juan Martín Hernández played fullback, Juan Imhoff wing and Manuel Carizza in the secondrow.

Top 14 Standings
1 Clermont 86
2 Toulon 85
3 Toulouse 74
4 Castres 73
5 Racing Métro 69
6 Montpellier 68
7 Perpignan 61
8 Paris 54
9 Grenoble 54 
10 Bayonne 53
11 Biarritz 52
12 Bordeaux 47
13 Agen 31
14 Mont de Marsan 15

* Play-Off´s
* Relegated

Clermont v Toulouse 

Bordeaux v Biarritz

Agen v Perpignan 

Bayonne v Montpellier

Grenoble v Toulon

Castres v Mont de Marsan

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