Castres stay top as Stade lose ground

Surprise Top 14 leaders Castres suffered no hangover after the holiday break as they retained their position at the top on Wednesday beating Montauban 30-7.

Castres joint coach Laurent Travers was encouraged by the performance without going overboard of how significant it was towards winning the title – a dream that he and co-coach Laurent Labit have made realistic in only their first season in charge after leaving Montauban.

“We experienced some precarious moments in the first-half,” he said.

“The Montauban players don’t let anything go. What is good, is that we never lost our way and we found the answers, but the score does not reflect the overall balance of the match.”

The stellar clash of the night saw 2008 champions Toulouse leapfrog reigning champions Perpignan into fourth place as they beat them 22-11 to frustrate the visitors hopes of winning there for the first time since the 1981-82 season.

Mercurial French fly-half Frederic Michalak kicked 11 points while fullback Clement Poitrenaud scored a decisive try eight minutes from time.

Toulouse manager Guy Noves expressed himself delighted with the win even if he risks losing France captain Thierry Dusautoir for Sunday’s match with Bayonne. And the fiery Toulouse handler was not best pleased at one of the questions posed to him.

“If this victory reassures me? Frankly, I have had enough that after every match I am asked that question. We are happy that have shown a lot of heart, that is all,” he said.

Perpignan general manager Jacques Brunel saw some bright spots in the defeat with the title the only thing possible for his side after they crashed out of the European Cup.

“I am disappointed but satisfied at the same time,” he commented.

“Disappointed by the defeat and the fact we didn’t get a bonus defensive point.

“It is frustrating because we deserved more.”

Stade Francais lost more ground as their disappointing season continued apace with a 25-23 reverse away at Montpellier and leaves them outside the positions to qualify for next season’s European Cup.

They only had themselves to blame as they led with 25 minutes remaining thanks largely to two tries by Geoffroy Messina – both converted by Lionel Beauxis – but Montpellier fullback Federico Todeschini was in masterful form with the boot and kicked 20 points.

Stade coach Jacques Delmas – who was brought in earlier in the season to replace Australian Ewen McKenzie – was fuming at the fact that his side failed to score one point in the final 25 minutes while Montpellier scored 16.

“Our kicking game was non-existent, instead of continually kicking up and unders we should have been more perspicacious and effective in driving the opponents back into their territory.

“I cannot see how with a 14 point lead we could lose this match.”

Stade’s Paris rivals, Racing Metro, continued their fine form as they extended their winning run to 11 successive matches in all competitions with a 23-19 win over relegation-threatened Bayonne.

Their ninth consecutive Top 14 victory moved them to within the record of 11 set by Toulouse last season whilst Bayonne will be hoping former Australia coach Eddie Jones does take up an offer to be consultant and rescue them after suffering their 11th defeat of the campaign.

Racing lock and former France captain Lionel Nallet said that it had been a good run-out after the holiday break.

“That really does us good because we had some concerns after the success we have enjoyed so far,” said Nallet.

“We had the break, so we didn’t know how we were going to react after returning. It is a nice victory.”

Stade Francais’ position worsened as other teams above them in the European Cup positions won, Toulon walloping bottom-placed Albi 41-13 with England fly-half Jonny Wilkinson landing 21 points.

Clermont thrashed Brive 52-10 to mo

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