Returning stars help guide Toulouse to victory
TOP 14 SATURDAY WRAP: A trio of France internationals including Romain Ntamack made their return from injuries to help guide league leaders Toulouse to a six-try 42-17 victory over Brive in the Top 14 on Saturday.
In what was a perfect boost for France’s coronavirus-hit Six Nations squad, flyhalf Ntamack played 69 minutes of the encounter, knocking over two conversions before he was replaced.
But there were wobbles, Ntamack – who had been out since late December with a double jaw fracture – missing two penalties, sending the second-half kick-off direct into touch and being defensively out of position for Brive’s opening try by Fijian wing Eneriko Buliruarua.
There was further good news as blindside flank Francois Cros, who started six Tests under France coach Fabien Galthie last year, shrugged off a sluggish start to produce a dynamic return following a foot injury.
There was not such positive feedback for fullback Thomas Ramos, making his comeback from a groin injury sustained in mid-January.
The playmaker, equally adept at No.10, came on as a sub for South African World Cup winner Cheslin Kolbe but only lasted 22 minutes before limping off with a right ankle injury.
Toulouse’s win, with tries to Joe Tekori, Cros, Dorian Aldegheri and Guillaume Cramont along with two penalty tries, consolidated their position as Top 14 leaders.
But they were made to work all the way, with Brive leading 17-14 in the 53rd minute before being hit by an increasing penalty count that eventually saw them handed three yellow cards while ceding Toulouse 14 points from the penalty tries.
“It was a very good Brive side and it’s a very positive result to take the five points even if there are things we need to hash out over the performance,” said Toulouse defence coach Laurent Thuery.
Ntamack’s comeback could be perfectly timed as France’s third-round match against Scotland was postponed after a Covid-19 outbreak among the squad, including Galthie, three other backroom staff, captain Charles Ollivon and 11 other players.
Jalibert, Carbnonel shine
The French face a fourth-round match away against England on March 13, followed by Wales at home a week later, with the Scotland game possibly re-arranged for March 26.
Ntamack’s place at Test level has been taken by Matthieu Jalibert, who has amassed 20 points in the opening two matches, but there is no doubt the gifted Toulouse playmaker would be welcomed back into the international fold by Galthie, should he prove himself match-fit.
Second-placed La Rochelle, who lost their two-year unbeaten home record to Toulouse last week, suffered a second straight loss for the first time this season, going down 15-22 away at Castres, for whom Argentina flyhalf Benjamin Urdapilleta kicked 14 points.
Third-placed Racing 92 went down 21-25 at Toulon, for whom flawless flyhalf Louis Carbonel kicked 20 points along with a try from fellow France back Gabin Villiere.
Racing notched up two tries through a pair of Villiere’s international teammates, Fijian-born centre Virimi Vakatawa and South African lock Bernard Le Roux, but it was not enough in the face of a metronomical Carbonel.
Bayonne agonisingly missed out on a defensive bonus point as they lost 28-20 at home against Lyon, while Bordeaux-Begles had the sharp-shooting Jalibert to thank for his 19 points off the boot in their 29-23 victory over Pau.
Lowly Agen’s search for a first league win in 18 attempts ran aground in Paris as they went down 21-40 to Stade Francais despite the hosts being down to 14 men for most of the game after France international lock Paul Gabrillagues saw red in the 16th minute for a dangerous tackle.
English playmaker Alex Lozowski converted three late penalties as Montpellier fought back to beat visiting Clermont 22-16 on Friday.
French Top 14 results on Saturday:
Bayonne 20-28 Lyon
Bordeaux-Begles 29-23 Pau
Castres 22-15 La Rochelle
Stade Francais 40-21 Agen
Toulon 25-21 Racing92
Toulouse 42-17 Brive
Montpellier 22-16 Clermont