Clerc inspires Toulouse to Top 14 victory

Two tries by France wing Vincent Clerc inspired European Cup finalists Toulouse to an emphatic 35-12 victory over Castres in their Top 14 play-off title clash on Saturday and a date with champions Perpignan next Friday in the semi-finals.

Toulouse, 17-time champions and three-time European Cup winners, never looked to be in much danger against a Castres side that had led the Top 14 table for a long period before fading as Toulouse reached their 17th French championship semi-final in 17 seasons.

Toulouse’s veteran halfback Jean-Baptiste Elissalde – who had an excellent match contributing 13 points from the boot – admitted that success brought its own problems.

“It’s getting a bit complicated, and we’re tiring a little,” he said in reference to a heavy schedule of matches that includes the European Cup final on May 22.

“But we’ve got a good morale and we’ve enjoyed a good end to the season.”

Toulouse got a dream start in the fourth minute when Gregory Lamboley recovered the ball and fed Byron Kelleher whose quick pass released full-back Maxime Medard, and he outwitted his opposite number Marc Andreu to cut inside and race some 30 metres to touch down for his fourth try of the season.

Elissalde converted to put the hosts 7-0 ahead.

Toulouse hammered home their advantage and grabbed their second try in the 17th minute through Clerc.

Castres were once again their own worst enemies as they lost the ball at halfway allowing Toulouse to counter attack through Elissalde and Yannick Jauzion, but the visitors won it back only to fumble it near their tryline.

France captain Thierry Dusautoir picked up the ball, passed to Jauzion who released it immediately to Clerc, who ran round three Castres defenders to touch down in the corner. Elissalde made no mistake with a superb conversion to make it 14-0.

Castres reduced the deficit in the 21st minute as the Top 14’s leading scorer Romain Teulet slotted over a penalty but Elissalde punished them for another infraction as he landed a penalty from long range six minutes later.

Teulet added a second penalty just after the half hour mark to make it 17-6 and then put Castres within sight of their opponents with a third early in the second-half.

The metronomic Elissalde, however, put Toulouse 20-9 to the good in the 53rd minute with a penalty from 40 metres out, but Teulet kept an improving Castres in the mix with another penalty with 20 minutes remaining.

Elissalde made it five from six succcessful attempts at goal shortly before being replaced with another penalty to stretch the home side’s lead.

Castres vain hopes of pulling off a remarkable win were killed off in the 65th minute as a wonderful move by the Toulouse backs involving Kelleher, Jauzion, Medard, Florian Fritz and Fijian flyer Vilimoni Delesau saw Clerc get the better of Teulet to score in the corner.

The hosts rubbed it in against a now demoralised Castres side as Yann David ran in another try.

The other semi-final next Saturday will see 10-time finalists Clermont, 21-17 winners over Racing Metro on Friday, play Toulon.


French Top 14 play-off results:

Toulouse 35 Castres 12


Played Friday
Clermont 21 Racing-Metro 17




Friday May 14
At Montpellier
Perpignan v Toulouse (kick-off 1845GMT)


Saturday May 15
At Saint-Etienne
Toulon v Clermont (kick-off 1430GMT)

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