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French title wide open

The first leg of the Top 8 semi-finals could hardly have been closer.

BSORF v Montpellier (Photo DDM, Michel Viala )

With the city’s two Top 8 teams finishing in third and fourth after the regular season, Toulouse hosted both of the Top 8 semi-final first legs last weekend.

Champions Lille visited Stade Toulouse and – in front of a nationwide live TV audience – came away with a 19-19 draw.

The visitors looked like they had the game in the bag after Shannon Izar's try was converted by Laetitia Esteve with 15 minutes to go, the Villeneuvoises looked to have done all of the hard work as they lead 11-19. But the home team were not finished.

Lille coach Damien Couvreur summed up the closing stages: "We made mistakes that cost us dearly.” With first a penalty and then with a try at the last minute, the Stade Toulousain snatched the draw (19-19) and travel north this weekend hoping to cause an upset and reach the final.

The match was dominated by Lille. Although they conceded an early score to Toulouse during a rare visit to the northerners’ end at the start of the match (3-0), the next twenty minutes saw them battering away at the Stade line before Shannon Izar, crashed through, converting her own try.

But poor discipline cost them dearly at the end of the half, when a second Toulouse penalty left the visitors just a point ahead despite having has so much of the play.

LMRCV even slipped behind soon after the restart when substitute full-back Pegot scored for Stade after a well timed run at the end of a good passing move (11-7). But Lille’s reaction was immediate, with some great individual work by Marine Menager, scoring on the right (11-12).

Lille survived a yellow card for captain Laura Di Muzio and after her return when further ahead with a second try for Shannon Izar. But Toulouse  fought back to 19-19, and could even have won, if an Imart penalty attempt had had a little more power.

"It's frustrating on the end. Big mistakes have destroyed all the work,"regretted Damien Couvreur. "It's a good result. Nothing is decided. We will have to win the return game. We have the skills and strength needed to win the game, it is up to us to use them."

A few minutes walk away on the other bank of the river, Blagnac St Oren (BSORF) took on Montpellier, who they had defeated twice in the regular season. And the home team seemed in charge throughout the opening 40 minutes.

"After reviewing the video of the match, I think we made a very good first half but failed to put the finish the game. But honestly at the break, I thought we were going to do it." Said Éric Carrière, joint coach of BSORF with Nicolas Tranier. That confidence seemed justified as they held a ten-point lead (13 -3).

But the visitors have not won five national titles in the last 10 years by rolling over. The second half was a completely different affair as they used their power to turn the scoreboard over with 16 unanswered points: " The problem is that we started to commit mistakes and lost our cool”, said Carrière. “The more upset we go with ourselves the more mistakes we made, especially on the ground. We also lost our fluidity by multiplying bad choices in key moments."

That black hole of forty minutes means that BSORF must win at the Stade Altrad on Sunday on the occasion of the return match. "We will go to Montpellier to win. We'll making some tactical adjustments to try to disrupt them. Unlike the first leg, we do not want to go out with regrets but with our heads held high. "