Perpignan hit Stade’s Top 14 play off hopes

Top 14 2009 champions Perpignan did their hopes of reaching the end of season
play-offs a huge favour on Saturday whilst denting the hopes of their opponents
Stade Francais in a 21-9 away win.

Victory kept Perpignan – who were losing French championship finalists last
year – in touch with the top six who contest the play-offs as they are eighth,
four points behind sixth-placed Bayonne after they stunned leaders Toulouse
in a 19-13 victory later on Saturday.

Stade, though, are in desperate shape as they are now 10th, nine points adrift
of sixth place with just six matches remaining.

Perpignan manager Jacques Brunel had equated his side’s progress this season
as being like that of the cyclists in the Tour de France on the legendary Alp
d’Huez climb, detached to start with from the leading pack but slowly regaining

And he was determined to keep to that tack after the match.

"We have progressed another step, but they are going to be more and more
difficult, ever higher and higher because there aren’t many left (number of

"We are still behind but little by little, we are getting back to the
leading peloton," said Brunel, who is strongly favoured to replace Nick
Mallett as Italy coach after this year’s World Cup.

His Stade counterpart Michael Cheika – who took over at the beginning of the
season after a successful spell as coach of Leinster – said that his side had
a tough task to make the top six.

"We have to win our last six matches," was the Australian’s despairing

"We are lacking consistency, not physically but mentally and we have to

Despite their defeat Toulouse stay top – five points clear of Racing-Metro
who thrashed doomed Bourgoin 38-19 earlier on Saturday – and grabbed a last
minute defensive bonus point as Vincent Clerc scored his sixth try of the season
which was converted.

Clerc’s fellow French wing Yoann Huget had scored a try for Bayonne in the
first-half intercepting a Yannick Jauzion pass deep inside his half and running
it back.

Toulouse should have won the match but their kicking was all over the place
as they tried three different kickers, David Skrela and Frederic Michalak before
finally settling on Nicolas Bezy.

Stade and Perpignan had fought out a dour first-half with the hosts edging
it 9-6, though it could have been a bigger lead had former France fly-half Lionel
Beauxis – who was only playing after having a suspension reduced earlier in
the week – not missed two kickable penalties.

Indeed he was replaced as kicker towards the end of the half and it was scrum-half
Julien Dupuy who gave them the half-time lead with a finely-struck one from
wide out on the left.

However, the visitors having been given a talking to at the break came out
all guns blazing in the second-half and scored two tries in the first 10 minutes.

Impressive Perpignan scrum-half Florian Cazenave touched down with suspicions
of there being a knock-on allayed as the video referee adjudged that the ball
had come off Stade centre Djibril Camara instead.

Perpignan fullback Jerome Porical missed with a woeful conversion attempt but
succeeded with his next one after veteran Romanian No8 Ovidiu Tonita went over
after a quick freekick taken inside the Stade 22 had opened up their defence.

Porical, who looks to have slipped out of contention for a place at the World
Cup this year after disappointing performances last November, added a penalty
nine minutes from time to all but wrap up the points.

Biarritz stayed firmly in contention for the play-offs with a 32-30 home win
against relegation-threatened La Rochelle and picked up a bonus offensive point
ta boot with Dimitri Yachvili in

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