Skelton sees red as champions Toulouse edge La Rochelle in season opener

Paris (AFP) –


Toulouse kicked off the defence of their Top 14 title on Sunday with a hard-fought 20-16 victory over La Rochelle, the team they beat in two finals in a month last season.

La Rochelle fell to Toulouse 22-17 in the European Champions Cup in May and 18-8 in the Top 14 in June.

There was to be no third-time lucky, at home on the opening weekend of the 2020-21 season, as a red card for Australian behemoth Will Skelton turned the tide.

Skelton was sent off by referee Jonathan Dufort for a shoulder charge on another former Wallaby lock, Richie Arnold, in the 57th minute.

From that point on Toulouse turned the screw, France fly-half Romain Ntamack crossing for the decisive try nine minutes later after a set-piece move.

La Rochelle had gone into half-time 10-9 up thanks to a Jules Favre try, converted by Jules Plisson, who also hit a penalty, while Thomas Ramos knocked over three first-half penalties for Toulouse.

Plisson and Ramos each added two penalties apiece in the second period, the latter hitting his fifth and final one in the 74th-minute to give Toulouse some breathing space.

"We didn't play the match of the year, but the win is important," said Toulouse scrum-half Antoine Dupont.

"For sure the red card was good for us, especially for a player like that -- we know the importance he has within their squad."

- Parra sets kicking record -

Former France scrum-half Morgan Parra set a Top 14 record for most consecutive successful kicks at goal, but it was not enough as his Clermont side went down 28-19 to Lyon on Sunday.

Parra converted JJ Hanrahan's try and kicked four penalties to take his streak to 42, bettering the previous best of 41 set in the 2008/9 season by now-retired former half-back partner Brock James.

Lyon crossed for three first-half tries through Xavier Mignot and Ethan Dumortier (2), while Leo Berdeu hit two conversions and three penalties.

"We knew it wouldn't be simple," said Lyon coach Pierre Mignoni, whose team, like that of Clermont, had a raft of missing players through injury and imposed rest from international duty.

"We had a very reduced squad... but we showed some character out there today.

"Now we have to show that over the course of the season."

Parra said Clermont had been left "frustrated" after a good opening 30 minutes.

"We gifted too many points," the 71-times capped French international added. "We had been warned about this match.

"For their part, despite the absence of many players, Lyon delivered a perfect match."

Saturday's action saw Biarritz return to the Top 14 with a 27-15 victory over Bordeaux-Begles, while Racing 92 beat Parisian rivals Stade Francais.

Elsewhere on the opening day of the season, Montpellier snatched a 24-24 draw at Toulon, as Brive thrashed promoted Perpignan 36-15 and Castres edged Pau 16-12.