Top 14 Champions Castres fall on first hurdle

Defending champions Castres suffered a 26-23 loss at Perpignan in their French Top 14 opener Saturday while Toulouse and Stade Francais, with 32 titles between them, also slumped to defeat.

Castres, who had beaten European champions Toulon in last season’s final, were in sight of victory when they led 23-19 with just three minutes left.

But highly-rated fly-half Camille Lopez, who made his international debut against the All Blacks in the summer, grabbed his side’s second try of the night in the 77th minute to snatch victory.

Winger Sofiane Guitoune also scored a try for Perpignan while Welsh full-back James Hook kicked three penalties and two conversions.

Lopez had hit the target with a first-half drop goal.

Marcel Garvey and New Zealand-born lock Piula Faasalele were try scorers for Castres.

“We lost this match ourselves, it’s very frustrating,” said Castres skipper Yannick Caballero.

Toulouse, champions as recently as 2011 and 2012, were defeated 31-25 by a Bordeaux-Begles side who finished third bottom last season while Stade Francais, last crowned champions in 2007, and who were 10th last season, went down 19-16 at Grenoble.

Fijian full-back Metuisela Talebula scored Bordeaux’s only try of the game in the 31st minute with Pierre Bernard adding the conversion after former All Black Luke McAlister had hit three early penalties for Toulouse, last season’s beaten semi-finalists.

Bernard was successful with three other penalties as the home side enjoyed a 16-12 lead at the break.

After two more penalties for both sides early in the second half, Toulouse were back in the lead at 25-22 in the 66th minute when former Otaga Highlander Hosea Gear crossed for a try with Kiwi compatriot McAlister adding the conversion.

But Toulouse paid for their persistent indiscipline with Bernard, who finished with 25 points, knocking over three more penalties, including two in the last five minutes, to secure victory.

Toulouse boss Guy Noves was furious with the officials and even appeared at the post-match news conference holding a video to illustrate his anger at some decisions he described as “laughable”.

“The yellow card (for scrum-half Jean-Marc Doussain) was a turning point as we conceded 10 points when we were down to 14 men,” said Noves.

“Bordeaux had a lot of quality but there were three or four decisions which had serious consequences.”

Grenoble over-turned a 9-6 half-time deficit to beat Stade Francais 19-16.

Australian hooker Anthony Hegarty grabbed Grenoble’s only try, five minutes into the second half with full-back Julien Arias replying for Stade just before the hour.

In the final analysis, Valentin Courrent’s greater accuracy with the boot for his 14-point haul proved greater than the 12 points kicked by rival Julien Dupuy.

Ambitious Racing Metro opened with a 19-14 home win over Brive with Irish international fly-half Jonathan Sexton marking his debut with two penalties and the successful conversion of Benjamin Lapeyre.

Clermont were made to work in their first Top 14 clash of the new season but ultimately took home the points with a 22-18 success at Biarritz.

New Zealand international centre Regan King crossed the tryline for the visitors while Australian fly-half Brock James kicked 17 points.

Biarritz scored tries through scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili and young winger Teddy Thomas but had to content themselves with a defensive bonus point for keeping the score to within seven points.

European champions Toulon were held to a 22-22 draw at Montpellier on Friday night.

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