Saturday, May 3, 2014

Top 14: Americas Exports Final Round Wrap

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Urdapilleta and Figuerola ensured
Oyonnax's survival in the Top 14
The final round of the 2013-2014 Top 14 was played in France earlier today, producing some shock results and creating history. Despite almost ending the five year unbeaten run of Clermont Auvergne at home France's 2009 championship winning Perpignan was relegated and will join 2011 Heineken Cup Finalists Biarritz in the second division next season. At the other end of the table Montpellier and Toulon secured direct qualification to the Semi Finals and await the winners of the barrage play-offs which are to be played next weekend. Toulouse will host Racing Métro  while Clermont will face current champions Castres. 

Brive 19-17 Oyonnax
The fight to avoid relegation saw Oyonnax needing points against Brive. The club entered the final round in danger of joining Biarritz in sinking down to the Pro d2. Unlike Bayonne Oyonnax did not have the luxury of playing at home but it did not have a task as tought as Perpignan as Oyonnax's opponent was Brive, an easier task than that of facing Clermont Auvergne away. 

Midway through the second half it appeared as if Oyonnax would be dropping to the Pro d2. Indeed after 63 minutes Brive was holding a 19-3 lead. But, not for the first time this season, the club fougt back well with former Puma Benjamín Urdapilleta seeing the club get to within two points of Brive as it hit-back with two tries. While it was not enough for a win it meant the club would be safe if either Bayonne or Perpignan failed to win their matches due to the points for and against records. Joining Urdapilleta in the halves was Agustín Figuerola who is another seeking a test recall.

Bayonne 23-13 Castres
Like Oyonnax, Bayonne had sneaked in a draw in the previous round to give itself a chance of avoiding relegation. It had also done so with a former Puma being heavily involved. Martín Bustos Moyano had secured a last minute draw against Grenoble which also featured a try assit from Santiago Fernández. The Argentine duo both started against Castres in what was a do or die performance and Bayonne found what it needed to as the Basque side was in control throughout to save itself from relegation. 

With all seven Top 14 matches being played at the same time no team knew exactly what was required for it to either avoid relegation or qualify for the play-offs. Therefore, in the case of Bayonne, the club had to prepare for the worst and play for the best. Playing on the right wing Bustos Moyano landed five goals in a thirteen point performance which also involved Fernández who started at fly half. Uncapped Argentine front-rower Ramiro Herrera started at tighthead for Castres while Uruguay's Rodrigo Capó Ortega played in the second-row.

Bordeaux-Begles 54-20 Biarritz
Playing for a possible place in the new European Champions Cup competition Bordeaux-Begles delivered an impressive performance to see the already relegated Biarritz Olympique have its horrible season ended in another humiliation. Bordeaux collected maximum points but finished in eighth position due to the results of other matches. The club will miss out on playing in the seventh v seventh match between the Top 14 and Aviva Premiership with Stade Français instead set to face the English club that finishes seventh.

The match was well attended with 33,031 supporters on hand at the Stade Chaban Delmas which is to be the permanent home of the club in the future. None of the club's three Argentine players were involved and all of them are now off contract allowing Daniel Hourcade access to them if selected. Former Puma Francisco Goméz Kodela started at tighthead prop for Biarritz and USA Eagles speedster Taku Ngwenya started on the right wing.

Toulouse 38-8 Grenoble
The current season has been one in which Toulouse has failed to live up to its name. The all time leading French and European champion has been a shadow of teams from previous years as it was knocked out of this season's Heineken Cup in a humiliating manner. The club can still, nonetheless, put together a campaign to win the Top 14 as it secured a place in the barrage aafter knocking over Grenoble. Patricio Albacete was not involved in the match.

Montpellier 44-10 Racing Métro
At home Montpellier has been very strong all season and with the club having exited the Heineken Cup early it has been able to focus all its energy into the Top 14 and the result is that the club finished second only to Toulon. Montpellier is now guaranteed of a place in the Semi Finals and, on form, is a team to be taken very seriously.

The club has a hsot of French internationals as well as notable former French players who may well be involved in the tour of Australia next month. The club also has three Pumas props but none of them faced Racing Métro.  Of the three all are in contention for places in the Pumas squad for the Rugby Championship. One of them, Juan Figallo, has been mentioned as the leading tighthead prop in the competition over the past two years but has missed out for Montpellier all season due to injury. Juan Martín Hernández played fullback for Racing Métro.

Toulon 17-15 Paris
Like last season Toulon has put itself into a rare position of being able to win both the Top 14 and the Heineken Cup in the same season. In order for this possibility to be realistic the club will need to alternate players to keep them in prime shape for the remaining matches this season. The good news is that in finishing top of the table the club, like Montpellier, has earned a bye from the barrage and will therefore not play next weekend.

Featuring for Toulon against the Parisians was Italy's Argentine prop Martín Castrogiovanni and Puma Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe. Stade Français was missing Argentine representation on the park but on the sidelines was Gonzalo Quesada who as the coach is being considered a future Argentine coach. His team has now been eliminated as it finished seventh, one place outside of the barrage. The side could still, nonetheless, still qualify for the European Champions Cup as it will now face the seventh placed Aviva Premiership side to determine who advances. Toulon hosted tade Français in Nice and the match was a huge success.

Clermont Auvergne 25-22 Perpignan
Perpignan came close to ending the five year undefeated run of Clermont Auvergne at the Stade Marcel Michelin but in the end the 2009 French champions were left heartbroken. With Perpignan failing to score in the final quarter Morgan Parra was able to kick Clermont to victory to secure third place and a home barrage play-off match against Castres. 35 year old Canadian Jamie Cudmore started in the second-row for Clermont and was joined by 37 year old Nathan Hines in the second half giving Clermont a combined second-row age of 72.

In losing the match Perpignan was confirmed as finishing on 51 competition points, the same number as Oyonnax who, remarkably, conceeded only one less point in the for and against comparison with Perpignan. The result is that two huge names of French rugby have been confirmed as reelgated leaving a massive hole in the competition for the 2014-2015 season. Arriving is Lyon meaning that the second largest French city will be represented and likely have strong attendances.

1
Toulon
77
2
Montpellier
76
3
Clermont Auvergne
73
4
Toulouse
69
5
Racing Métro
69
6
Castres
66
7
Stade Français Paris
65
8
Bordeaux-Begles
64
9
CA Brive
61
10
Bayonne
54
11
Grenoble
53
12
Oyonnax
51
13
Perpignan
51
14
Biarritz
26

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