THE RABODIRECT PRO12 wasn’t the only league in which Irishmen had a part to play over the weekend.
There were seven of our players in action during the Top 14 and Pro D2 schedule in France on Saturday and Sunday, while several Irish youngsters are preparing for their final few games of the Espoirs season.
Racing Métro gave a dominant second-half performance to beat relegated Biarritz 37-7 on Saturday evening, as Jonny Sexton kicked two penalties and two conversions during his 66 minutes on the pitch.
The Parisian club earned a try-scoring bonus point [their first of the Top 14 season] with five tries, and they finally appear to be clicking in attack. This result follows last weekend’s superb 32-22 win away to neighbours Stade Français.
With Ronan O’Gara aiding Laurent Labit in his coaching of the backs, Racing are now up to fourth and finding form at exactly the right time of the season. They face a crucial clash at home to Clermont this coming weekend, before a trip to league leaders Montpellier on the final day of the regular season.
James Hart played 45 minutes of Grenoble’s home defeat to Montpellier on Saturday, kicking one conversion and two penalties. In the second row, former Connacht lock Andrew Farley played the full game and scored a try.
The Isère-based club, coached by Bernard Jackman and Mike Prendergast, are currently on a bad run of results, having lost their last five games. As a result, they find themselves 10th in the league table and out of contention for the play-offs.
Jeremy Davidson‘s Aurillac were beaten 18-16 at home by Pau on Saturday in the French second tier professional league, as former Munster lock Brian Hayes played the full 80 minutes.
Ex-Ulster academy wing/fullback Charlie Simpson made his seventh appearance of the season off the bench, replacing the injured Pierre Jeudy on the left wing after just 25 minutes.
Aurillac’s loss means they remain eighth in the division.
Mont de Marsan narrowly lost away to Tarbes on Saturday evening, with Westmeath man Mark Flanagan completing the full game in the second row. The 24-year-old was making his 17th start of the season as his club remained ninth in the league.
Flanagan, who joined from Leinster last summer, has been greatly impressing in France in recent weeks, with rugby newspaper Midi Olympique running a short piece on his impact just last Friday.
On Sunday, promotion contenders Agen ran three tries past La Rochelle in a 33-18 victory that saw former Munster hooker Denis Fogarty play the final ten minutes. The Irishman has faced stiff competition from in-form Moroccan international Jalil Narjissi all season, complicated by the fact that the veteran is now captaining the side.
Still, Fogarty has made 20 appearances in the Pro D2 this season and with Agen third in the league and likely to be involved in the promotion play-offs, we may be seeing the 30-year-old playing in the Top 14 next season.
France’s national under 23 competition splits all 30 professional clubs into three pools of ten teams. Each side faces the other nine home and away, before the top four teams in the pool advance semi-finals and a possible final.
In Groupe Trois, Rory Kavanagh and Jerry Sexton have helped Auch to qualify for the semi-finals with a game still left to play. Their clash with Mont de Marsan on Sunday looks set to decide which of the two teams gets a home draw in the knock-out stages.
Second row Sexton, an Ireland U20 international, has been an important part of the team’s pack, while centre Kavanagh, a Leinster Schools Senior Cup winner with St. Michael’s in 2012, has impressed in the backline.
Likely to be in the Mont de Marsan back row on Sunday is ex-Munster U20 and Shannon man Cronan Gleeson, who moved to the southwestern French club earlier in the season.
Stade Français will miss out on a play-off spot in Groupe Deux as they sit in seventh position with one game remaining. That means out-half Peter Lydon won’t be involved in knock-out action, but the Kilkenny man’s recent start for the senior side in the Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final was just reward for the impression he has made in Paris.
In the first groupe, Shane O’Leary‘s Grenoble are also out of contention for semi-final qualification after just four wins in a difficult season. The ex-Young Munster outhalf/centre had made five senior appearances this season, however, and settled in well at the club.