Toulon win Top14 Rugby opener without stars

Toulon made light of the imminent departure of coach Philippe Saint-Andre with a 30-5 win over Biarritz in Saturday’s only game in the opening round of the French Top 14 Rugby championship.

Every side in France is missing players for at least the first six rounds of the Top 14 because of the World Cup.

Toulon, whose pre-season was also thrown into confusion this week by the announcement that Saint-Andre would succeed Marc Lievremont as France coach from December 1, went into the game without seven of their regulars – including England fly-half Jonny Wilkinson – while the visitors were missing eight.

However, the home side started brightly in the sunshine with new centre Matthieu Bastareaud – omitted from France’s World Cup squad – quick to make an impression.

It took 24 minutes for the home side to get their first try. As Julien Dumora’s penalty hit the upright, Samoan centre David Smith gathered the rebound from under the noses of a sleepy Biarritz defence and crashed over for the score.

Three minutes later England flanker Steffon Armitage marked his first match since arriving from London Irish with the second try of the game.

Trailing 20-0, Biarritz got on the board two minutes before half-time when Dan Caprice was the first to Iain Balshaw’s clever grubber although television replays showed he did not actually get downward pressure on the ball as he attempted to touch down.

Dumora, however, slotted a penalty four minutes after the break and took his tally for the afternoon to 15 points when he converted flanker Oliver Missoup’s 55th minute try.

Defending champions Toulouse were brought down to earth when they were beaten 18-13 at Bayonne on Friday.

Trailing 9-0 at half-time thanks to three Benjamin Boyet penalties, Toulouse showed signs of life in the second period with former All Black Luke McAlister making an immediate impact when he came on.

France reject Yannick Jauzion, however, crashed through for a try in added time which at least enabled Toulouse to claim a defensive bonus point for finishing within seven points of Bayonne.

The team they beat in last season’s final, Montpellier, also got off to a losing start as they went down 30-22 at Racing-Metro whose two tries came from Henry Chevancy and Jone Qovu.

It was small revenge for Racing who lost to Montpellier in last season’s semi-finals back in May.

“To beat Montpellier – a finalist last season – and not even let them take a defensive bonus point is very satisfying for this first match, even if there is plenty of work still to be done,” said Racing head coach Pierre Berbizier.

Stade Francais also kicked off with a victory as they ran in five tries to beat newly-promoted Bordeaux-Begles 41-20.

It was a welcome start to the season for the club which spent the summer fighting for financial survival before an 11th hour takeover package ensured they would stay in the top flight.

The other newly-promoted side Lyon, who included South African World Cup winning scrum-half Ricky Januarie, also lost but their 22-13 defeat at Clermont suggests they are not necessarily heading straight back down -even if the hosts were missing the rump of their first team.

The tightest match of the first round – and the only away win – came at Brive where perennial rivals Agen stole a 20-19 win thanks to an 80th minute try from Ivorian full-back Silvere Tian and a cool conversion from Valentin Courrent.

Meanwhile, Perpignan full-back Jerome Porical banged over six penalties and a conversion for a personal haul of 20 points as Perpignan beat Castres 25-6.

Top 14 results

Toulon 30 Biarritz 5
Played Friday
Bayonne 18 Toulouse 13
Stade Francais 41 Bordeaux-Begles 20
Brive 19 Agen 20
Clermont 22 Lyon 13
Racing-Metro 30 Montpellier 22
Perpignan 25 Castres 6

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