Despite a heart-stopping finale, in extremely difficult conditions the Ciel et Blanc never managed to break down the Oyonnax defence. Beaten 6-0, they have to be content with the defensive bonus point.
Right up until the final second of play, it looked as if they were going to pull it off. But despite spending eight pulsating minutes of extra time camped only metres from the opposition goal-line, the Ciel et Blanc just couldn’t manage to score the try they so desperately needed. Like so many other teams who have travelled to Oyonnax this season, they failed to win on the pitch at Charles-Mathon.
A pitch, it must be noted, that was extremely greasy, and what with the prevailing weather conditions, any attempt to play running rugby was out of the question. Indeed, the with heavy rain failing steadily since Friday evening, a few hours before kick-off there was even serious doubt as to whether the game could go ahead as planned. But six council workers, armed with special brooms managed to get rid of the large puddle of water near half-way, and after inspecting the pitch an hour before kick-off, referee Mr Garcès was able to give the go-ahead.
In other words, the kind of conditions that dictated that both teams keep their sprigs long, and their ideas short. And, as could be expected, the game was reduced to a fierce combat between the two forward packs.
It took 25 minutes for the first points to be scored. Following a big scrum from Oyonnax, the locals gained a penalty and from 30 metres out, Régis Lespinas opened the score.
Playing into the wind in the first half, the Ciel et Blanc immediately worked their way deep into the opposition half, but failed to capitalise on a couple of scoring opportunities. Two minutes before half-time, Jonny Sexton had a chance to draw even with a relatively easy penalty from 23 metres near the right-hand touch. But the treacherous wind pushed it to the left, and at half-time Oyonnax still led 3-0.
In the second half, with the wind at their backs, the Franciliens again managed to get good field position and play in the opposition’s half. But they never found the key to break down the Oyonnax defence. Two penalty attempts from Benjamin Lapeyre (60’) and Sexton (61’) both missed the mark, but even when Lespinas kicked a second goal for Oyonnax in the 73rd minute, victory was still well within the visitors’ grasp.
So it was that in a heart-stopping finale, with more than ten minutes spent hammering at the opposition line, the Franciliens threw everything they had into the battle. Penalties, scrums, long series of “pick and go”. But they still couldn’t get through. The heroic defence of the locals held firm, and the Ciel et Blanc will have to content themselves with a solitary defensive bonus point. “The whole game was a tight battle, and overall we fronted up,” said prop Luc Ducalcon at the end of the match. “At least that gives us something to build on going forward.”
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Saturday 26th August