Toulon v Racing Metro – or, as it was known in whispered conversations in rugby clubs up and down France, Wilkinson v Sexton – was widely touted as the battle of the kickers in the Top 14 this week – but an exhibition of straightforward, effective, clinical rugby by the expensively assembled Toulonnaise made a mockery of the pundits’ predictions – not to mention the reputation of their expensively assembled opponents.
Instead, the kicking gauntlet for the second round of matches in the French top flight was picked up by Brive full-back Gaëtan Germain and Bordeaux fly-half Pierre Barnard in a match that was arguably most notable for its long periods of indifference, which were punctuated by rare moments of tedium.
The two sides traded early penalties, but the visitors’ indiscipline at the breakdown soon gifted Germain the ideal chance to put Brive ahead. He didn’t let the home fans down, and they were 9-3 ahead when Bordeaux winger Carballo was yellow carded in the 22nd minute. Germain wasted almost precisely no time extending the hosts’ lead.
Fourteen-man Bordeaux seemed unable, or unwilling, or both to hold on to the ball for a any length of time – but it wasn’t too much of a problem, as 15-man Brive were suffering the same problem.
Both sides huffed and puffed, expending plenty of effort in the process – but without any attacking edge, the game was descending into an Eighties England-style kickathon. The Begles’ hero from last week, Barnard, slotted another penalty to bring the scores back to 12-6. But his effort was quickly cancelled out by Germain, who gleefully accepted the chance to make it 15-6.
The second half promised much – for the first 31 seconds – as Bordeaux strung a series of telling passes together, until a knock on brought the game to a juddering halt a couple of metres into the home side’s half.
Brive then tried to inject a bit of life into the game with a 30-second passage of play of their own. Unsurprisingly – they took advantage of another Bordeaux infringement to extend their lead again thanks to the boot of Germain.
It didn’t take long, however, for the hosts to give Barnard a chance to cut the lead to nine points, which he did. He then tried to make the deficit just six points with an audacious penalty attempt from 60m – but missed. That he even attempted it probably says more about the attacking intent of both teams than any match report.
He had another chance – from much closer to the posts – 10 minutes later and made no mistake.
To break the monotony, after a surprisingly lengthy period inside Bordeaux’s 22 ended with yet another infringement, the hosts forsook another shot at goal in favour of a scrum… and then another as Bordeaux infringed again.
Finally, Brive’s scrum monster Sisaro Koyamaibole bullocked over for a try that was so surprising that silence briefly descended over the stadium before the home fans realised what had just happened and erupted in jubilation.
Normal service, however, was resumed with 10 minutes left on the clock as Bordeaux conceded another penalty and Germain stepped up to kick. In a bid to keep things interesting, however, he missed.
With five minutes left, Bordeaux won an entirely kickable penalty – but they needed a converted try to pick up a losing bonus point, so they went for the lineout. The training ground move that followed ended – almost inevitably – with a knock on.
But they won a penalty by making a mess of the resulting scrum – and had another go. It was about as good as it got, though, as Bordeaux saw out the game without further scares.
Brive 25 (15)
Bordeaux 12 (6)
Brive Germain (6)
Bordeaux Barnard (4)