Perpignan snatch top spot off Castres in French league

French champions Perpignan came back from a 12-point deficit to leapfrog Castres with a 17-15 win which took the Catalans to the top of the French rugby championship standings.


AFP - French champions Perpignan came back from a 12-point deficit Friday to leapfrog Castres with a 17-15 win which took the Catalans to the top of the French rugby championship standings.

Perpignan recovered from their poor opening with a gutsy showing to move a point clear with 35 points from 11 games as they handed their rivals a third defeat of the season.

Romain Teulet kicked four penalties, two inside seven minutes, as Castres got off to a flier, romping into a 12-0 lead before a mammoth effort from Jerome Porical put the hosts on the scoreboard for the only time in a tense and scrappy opening half.

Teluet's exploits gave the visitors, chasing a fourth away win of the campaign, a cushion and enabled them to make light of the fact they had not scored a try in four outings - though they were left to rue their luck as that run continued.

The home fans quickly made their frustration clear as the teams trooped off at the interval at the Aime Giral stadium.

Perpignan were coming off a fine win over Stade Francais at the Stade de France but struggled in the opening 40 minutes to find any form.

After the restart, however, they found the rhythm and swiftly cut the lead back to two points following a penalty try converted by Porical seven minutes into the second period.

The Teulet boot again came to three-time champions Castres' rescue as he fired over another nerveless penalty on the hour to make it 15-10.

But that served only to fire up the blood and gold-clad Catalans and Guilhem Guirado fought his way through a maul to touch down on 63 minutes and bring the match level before Porical duly converted to put Perpignan ahead for the first time 17-15 and they just held on.

Castres had been surprising early pacesetters following a disappointing season last year which saw them battle against relegation.

This time out they have been revitalised under the stewardship of former Montauban coaching duo Laurent Travers and Laurent Labit since they arrived in the close season.

They were boosted Friday by the return to fitness of exciting centre Romain Cabannes, recovered from a hamstring injury, but were without fellow centre Pierre-Emmanuel Garcia, South African prop Michael Coetzee and scrum-half Alexandre Albouy.

Perpignan welcomed back Nicolas Durand, former England international Perry Freshwater, Olivier Olibeau, Romanian Ovidiu Tonita and Greg Le Corvec as coach Jacques Brunel plotted the route back to the summit.

Clermont, perennial title challengers but unable ever to actually win the crown, losing to Perpignan in last season's final, are third and will look to overhaul Castres and draw level with Perpignan with a weekend home win over seventh-placed Stade Francais.

Elsewhere, Brive will hope that the turbulent past few weeks off the pitch will be at an end after former manager Laurent Seigne followed the club's honorary president Patrick Sebastien out of the club earlier this week.

Brive travel to Bourgoin, who are a place above them.

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