Perpignan clinch basement battle

·4-min read

With Covid ensuring that only Union Bordeaux-Begles out of the top three were in action at the weekend, attention turned to the battle at the bottom of the Top 14.

These are turbulent times in Biarritz. An ongoing dispute between club and town over financing of a new stadium, internal political wrangles and now a likely relegation are all hanging over Les Biarrots after a desperately disappointing 25-23 loss at home to fellow strugglers Perpignan.

They aren’t making many friends on the way either. Perpignan captain Mathieu Acebes spoke afterwards of the hostility of the home fans with some feeling, saying: “I was a little disappointed. I was insulted during the whole match in front of my family…You can be a supporter, you can cheer on a team, but insulting for free when you’re sitting in the stands is a bit average.

Lost the plot

“At some point, you have to put things in context. The supporter supports. He does not insult. If they want to insult me, they should come to face me after the game, when I leave. Not 100 metres away. The Biarrot fans were wrong and the Biarrots were wrong on the pitch, because they lost the plot and we stayed within it.”

It was quite a plot. Perpignan came to Biarritz 1,058 days since their last away victory in the Top 14, stuck at the bottom of the table and facing a fired-up crowd on a sodden pitch in a stiff breeze.

They started better, making some 50 metres with a series of pick and go moves – a feature of the game – and finished the move on the blindside through Alivereti Duguivalu.

But Biarritz played the weather better, nicking the lead back with a pair of penalties before Tomas Cubelli’s converted try helped them to a handsome 13-8 lead at the break.

Everything turned in the third quarter. Duguivalu notched his second score to put Perpignan back in front, then Biarritz centre Francois Saili gifted an interception to Perpignan’s South African fly-half Tristan Tedder to put Perpignan 22-13 ahead.

Tempers frayed, as did discipline. Biarritz’s Henry Speight and Perpignan’s Sadek Deghmache were sent to the sin bin for exchanging details, and Perpignan lock Andrei Mahu followed for repeated infringements. Scrum-half Barnabas Couilloud went over for Biarritz. Brett Heron converted, then added a penalty with six minutees to go to give them the lead.

But with four minutes remaining, Melvin Jaminet held his nerve to land the match-winning penalty and take Perpignan out of the relegation zone, above Toulon and Brive. Biarritz remain bottom and look to be in serious trouble.

Brive don’t look much better, although for an hour or so they had the beating of table-toppers Union Bordeaux-Begles in filthy weather in the Correze. But at 19-9 down, and with Brive good value for the lead, the visitors rallied.

Cameron Woki sparked the revival, sneaking through the fringe for a 20 metre burst to the posts and Bordeaux’s pack outlasted its counterpart (fitness has been a problem for Brive all season) to squeeze out the penalties for Maxime Lucu to kick the leaders to victory.

Brive do have a game in hand on Perpignan but it’s tough to see them winning it; the match between the two at the end of April could be a relegation decider.

Elsewhere, Racing 92 arrested a recent slump in form with a 33-28 home win over Clermont, who led 19-7 after half an hour and then seemed to stop playing. Pau, so impressive at home to Brive last week, were singularly awful away at Lyon, going down 35-10. Lima Sopoaga was a standout performer for Lyon.

Castres maintained their play-off push with a 15-9 win over Stade Francais, in a game as governed by defence and indiscipline as the scoreline suggests. That the win was ugly is not bothering the Tarnats, whose prop, the magnificently-named Wilfrid Hounkpatin explained the team’s attitude to winning ugly: “You have to do what you know how to do and have confidence in yourself. We have no reason to envy to other clubs, even if we sometimes say of Castres that it is a small team.”

On a day when 158 matches across France were called off because of either Covid or the weather, critical fans might like to be grateful they at least got to see a game. Elsewhere in the Top 14, Toulouse-Montpellier and La Rochelle-Toulon were postponed, leaving Bordeaux top by nine points, albeit having played a game or two more then their chasers. Biarritz are bottom, with Toulon also in the relegation zone below Brive and Perpignan but Toulon have three games in hand on Perpignan and two in hand on Brive.

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