Stade Francais went clear at the top of the French league on an emotional day in Paris with a bonus point 49-13 win over Castres Olympique on Friday.
Tries from Fiji wing Waisea Nayacalevu, Jonathan Danty, a hat-trick from captain Sergio Parisse and a penalty try ensured Stade took the maximum five points from the encounter.
Clermont were to face Brive yesterday and had to do likewise at home to retake the Top 14 leadership on points difference.
Before the match, both sides paid tribute to the people killed in the Charlie Hebdo attacks by wearing nous sommes tous Charlie T-shirts (we are all Charlie).
Following a minute’s silence, the sparse crowd joined in the spirit with a resounding and emotional rendition of the French national anthem, La Marseillaise, as the game kicked off.
“We were all affected by what we saw,” Stade coach Gonzalo Quesada said. “The players were saddened and stressed, but agreed that it was necessary to play the game and represent the city of Paris. I asked myself all afternoon whether we should play or not.”
“I told the players that we should be privileged that people were coming to the stadium,” he said. “We had to show a state of mind that makes Paris proud.”
Castres struck first through a Julien Dumora penalty before Jules Plisson hit back two minutes later.
The Parisians moved into overdrive on the quarter-hour mark with a simple move from the back of the scrum, No. 8 Parisse feeding scrumhalf Julien Dupuy, who ran hard at the stretched Castres defense before his perfectly timed pass put Nayacalevu into the corner.
Plisson converted and then extended the hosts’ lead twice more in the first half hour to open up a 16-3 gap before flanker Piula Faasalele was sin-binned for not rolling away after Castres had already been warned for persistent infringing.
Within a couple of minutes, Castres looked to have been already punished as Stade sent center Geoffrey Doumayrou over with a beautifully worked move down the left.
However, the referee referred it to the television match official who ruled it out for a forward pass.
The reprieve was short-lived as Stade kept on the pressure and a clever miss-pass from Dupuy allowed barrel-chested center Danty to power over under the posts, with Plisson converting.
Castres finally managed to stem the tide of 23 straight home points when Dumora slotted a penalty to send the 2013 champions in at the break trailing 23-6.
And the Top 14 strugglers got a lifeline at the start of the second period when Plisson failed to gather an up-and-under, sparking a kick and chase that finished with wing Remy Grosso touching down and Dumora converting.
Stade regrouped and produced another wonderfully worked move with Nayacalevu and Djibril Camara setting up Danty.
Yet incredibly that too was referred to the TMO who adjudged, again much to the surprise of most observers, the center to have lost control of the ball in touching down.
Italian captain Parisse was seething and moments later the inspirational leader took on the Castres defense on his own and barged over for the hosts’ third try.
Castres continued to give away penalties and replacement prop Ramiro Herrera was shown a yellow card, with Parisse scoring his second try from a pushover scrum immediately afterward.
Castres captain Rodrigo Capo Ortega was next into the sin-bin as the referee lost patience with Castres, now down to 13 men.
Stade did not let them off the hook, although Parisse was initially denied his hat-trick from another driving scrum when the referee gave the home side a penalty try.
Parisse deservedly got his hat-trick in the final minute. Following a long period of pressure Plisson chipped to the corner for his captain to touch down.
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