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Dublin: 18 °C Wednesday 24 July, 2019
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Sexton's debut Top 14 season ends as Montpellier rue rule mix-up

Racing were beaten in the semi-finals, with Toulon advancing to face Castres in a repeat of last season’s final.

Sexton kicked six points, but couldn't prevent a Racing defeat.
Sexton kicked six points, but couldn't prevent a Racing defeat.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

JONNY SEXTON’S FIRST season in France came to an end on Friday night as he and his Racing Métro teammates were beaten 16-6 by Toulon in the semi-finals of the Top 14 at Stade Pierre Mauroy in Lille.

The Ireland out-half kicked two penalties, but only had one further effort from the tee as the Parisians failed to break down Toulon’s powerful defence. A 12th-minute try by centre Matt Giteau gave Bernard Laporte’s side an early lead which they never relinquished.

A yellow card for Mathieu Bastareaud saw Racing enjoy numerical advantage for 10 minutes of the first half, although Toulon remained in control. Jonny Wilkinson was wide with three consecutive penalties before the break, but slotted two thereafter and sealed the win with a late drop goal.

Source: რაგბის ფანები/YouTube

Sexton’s maiden campaign in the Top 14 saw him make 21 appearances, with four of those coming off the Racing bench. A further four starts in the Heineken Cup added to the Irishman’s workload in what was overall a positive introduction to France’s top tier.

Mourad Boudjellal’s Toulon will face Castres in the Top 14 final at the Stade de France on the 31st of May, after the reigning champions beat Montpellier 22-19 in the second semi-final of the weekend.

Je ne sais pas

The David Darricarrère and Serge Milhas-coached side were forced into extra time following a 19-19 draw in the regular 80 minutes. A superb drop-goal by Seremaia Baï just before the break in the 20-minute extra time gave Castres the lead, before Montpellier’s confusion around the rules cost them a chance of redemption.

Having been awarded a kickable penalty on the Castres 22 in the 96th minute, the Montpellier players opted to kick for touch rather than attempting to level the game, believing that a draw would have handed Castres victory.

However, a penalty would have meant that both teams had scored one try, four penalties and a drop-goal each, thereby sending the game to a penalty shoot-out. Afterwards, Montpellier coach Fabien Galthié admitted that “we didn’t know the rules.”

Source: BowserX4/YouTube

Out-half François Trinh-Duc claimed that he had asked referee Pascal Gaüzère what the official rules were immediately before opting to kick for touch, only to told by the match official that he did not know either.

Obviously, it would be foolish to pin Montpellier’s defeat entirely on this mix-up, although it has been a talking point in France. If the home side had mauled over from the subsequent line-out to win the game, their decision would likely have been framed as an intelligent one.

Castres deserve huge credit for reaching their second consecutive final, with scrum-half Rory Kockott kicking 14 points and Antonie Claassen scoring the try. The scrum and line-out delivered at key times too, as the Tarn-based club’s power came to the fore.

It all means a repeat of last season’s denouement, when Castres deservedly claimed a 19-14 success against Toulon.

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Murray Kinsella

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