Saturday, March 29, 2014

Top 14: Americas Exports Round 23 Wrap

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Photo LNR Oyonnax was too
strong for Grenoble
With the Top 14 season now heading into the final rounds all clubs are fighting harder than ever to secure competition points. Only the fate of Biarritz Olympique has been sealed. The Basque club has been relegated to the Pro d2 and will be joined by the team that finishes second to bottom. That club could potentially be a number of sides with one of Bayonne, Oyonnax and Perpignan being the most likely. Questions remain at the top of the table too. At the present point in time the sides currently ranked 1-9 could be deemed to all have a chance of qualifying for the barrage. 

Brive 26-24 Clermont Auvergne
The unpredictability of the Top 14 this season was evident yet again in the opening match of the round as the bottom seed at the start of this season´s competition knocked-over one of the leading contenders. Brive was relegated to the Pro d2 two seasons ago and last season won promotion back to the Top 14 behind Oyonnax. Brive is well placed to avoid relegation this season while Clermont-Auvergne has slipped to third position. Clermont-Auvergne now head into next weekends Heineken Cup Quarter Final without the confidence of other sides. Canadian Jamie Cudmore was not involved for the visitors. 

Paris 22-32 Racing Métro
The Parisian derby continued the recent results of both Stade Français and Racing Métro as the former continued to slide down the standings while Racing Métro edged higher, this time overtaking Toulouse. The Gonzalo Quesada coached Stade Français had been leading the competition not too long ago but is now outside of the play-offs zone. Bitter-sweet news for Argentina was the Puma Benjamín Macome started for Stade Français in the back-row and had a very strong first half. He had to leave the match early, however, after suffering a head injury. Juan Martín Hernández also started, playing fullback and with distinction, for Racing Métro. Juan Imhoff was unused for the visitors from the bench.

Biarritz Olympique 34-34 Castres Olympique
Biarritz may well have already been relegated but the club is still interested in playing and trying to win matches. With the pressure now gone the small town side hosted and impressed against the current French champions. Such an effort was desparately lacking earlier in the season as Biarritz failed to win matches and also to collect competition points. The draw against Castres means Racing Métro is now just two points behind the leaders. Involved were players from both the USA and Uruguay which raised questions due to the same two countries competing in a Rugby World Cup Qualifier on the same afternoon on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. Taku Ngwenya started for Biarritz and Rodrigo Capó Ortega did so for Castres. Ngwenya scored a try in the fifth minute and was joined by former Puma Francisco Goméz Kodela who wll play for Bordeaux-Begles next season. 

Bordeaux Begles 23-5 Perpignan
The unlikely fates of both teams drew closer to becoming a reality on Saturday afternoon as Bordeaux-Begles was far too strong for Perpignan. In winning the fixture Bordeaux is now tied with Toulouse and Paris for a place in the play-offs. Perpignan, in contrast, is just two points clear of the relegation zone. Involved for Bordeaux-Begles was Puma Nicolás Sánchez who was a second half replacement. The Pumas fly half is off contract at the end of the season and, currently, has no European club to play for next season. Should the status quo remain then he will be able to face Ireland and Scotland in Argentina in June.

Oyonnax 40-13 Grenoble
The relegation threatened Oyonnax completed a dream performance at home on Saturday afternoon and did so with important contributions from Argentine players. The sides best player both this season and last is undeniably Benjamín Urdapilleta who has scored well over half of the points for the club. Against Grenoble on Saturday Urdapilleta landed eight kicks at goal to complete a personal haul of twenty points. Urdapilleta started with another former Puma, Agustín Figuerola and the pair were again playing 9 and 10. Figuerola scored one of four tries for Oyonnax in what was a bonus point victory. 

Montpellier 43-27 Bayonne
Montpellier underlined its credentials as a club in with a realistic shot at the title this season. Montpellier has been playing some very good rugby as of late and with the club not having been strongly impacted by the Six Nations and the Heineken Cup the players will have more in the tank than some others in the remaining rounds of the regular season. None of Montpellier´s three Pumas were involved but former Montpellier fly half Santiago Fernández started for Bayonne. In collecting no competition points Bayonne is now in grave danger. It is level with Oyonnax on points but Oyonnax has a match in hand.

Toulon 32-28 Toulouse
Both Toulon and Toulouse played very well in the final match of the round. The titanic nature of the contest saw authorities relocate it to the Stade Velodrome in Marseilles and with both clubs well placed ahead of the Heineken Cup Quarter Finals against Leinster and Munster next weekend there is reason to believe both could win. Starting for Toulon was Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe. The Pumas captain started in the back-row while Patricio Albacete came off the bench for Toulouse.

1 Montpellier 66
2 Toulon 65
3 Clermont 65
4 Castres 62
5 Racing Métro 60
6 Toulouse 58
7 Bordeaux 58
8 Paris 58
9 Brive 55
10 Grenoble 50
11 Perpignan 46
12 Bayonne 44
13 Oyonnax 44
14 Biarritz 26

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