Carcassonne will meet old rivals Lézignan in the Championship final at Toulouse on Sunday after the Canaries overcame Avignon’s challenge by winning 27-18 and Lézignan went through by the almost identical score of 26-18 against St Estève-XIII Catalan.
Twelve-man Carcassonne – who at one point were reduced to eleven – proved too strong for Avignon, whose run of fine form, including winning at Limoux in the previous week’s playoff, came to an end. The fifth-placed team managed a slender lead early in the second half against the league leaders, but could not take further advantage of their numerical superiority.
Carcassonne had the combination of Alexis Escamilla and Clément Herrero to thank for opening up a 10-0 margin inside ten minutes as the winger touched down twice from the half-back’s prompting. Avignon centre Martial Romano replied, fastening on to a pass from Louis Jouffret, who himself went over not long after the break to level the scores.
Just before, Carcassonne’s Jonathan Soum was red-carded for a dangerous tackle. Vince Albert was next to go, sin binned for slowing the tackle. Olivier Arnaud’s subsequent penalty put the visitors 12-10 ahead before Alexis Alberola’s drop reduced the margin to one point. Avignon began to stumble and Carcassonne struck twice, Bastien Canet powering over and Matthieu Khedimi scoring from dummy-half to make it 23-12. Hooker Renaud Ganz crossed for Avignon but Alberola’s late try sealed it for Carcassonne.
In a magnificent game played in strength-sapping heat that necessitated water breaks, Lézignan used all their experience and know-how to get the better of the young Catalans, who finally cracked in the last quarter.
There was nothing in it at half-time. St Estève half-back César Rougé went over from a lucky rebound in the second minute, Rémy Marginet hitting back for the FCL from Antoni Maria’s pass and converting. The Dragons’ reserves retook the lead when Romain Khedimi crashed over, Robin Brochon goaling and then adding a penalty. But FCL centre Théo Bonneriez put winger Benjamin Tort in at the corner, Marginet converting from near touch for a 12-all scoreline at the break. The Catalans had held firm after Tiaki Chan was sin binned in the 33rd minute but a 56th minute Marginet penalty, followed three minutes later by a sensational 95 metre interception try by winger Paul Izard, rocked the Baby Dracs back on their heels. A Marginet drop goal increased Lézignan’s late dominance before a Wesley Lolo try, converted by Marginet put the game beyond the visitors’ reach. Though the Catalans wanted to prove they were not finished, Robin Brochon breaking over 80 metres for a fine blindside try, Joan Guasch’s drop confirmed the FCL’s deserved place in an eagerly-anticipated final.
Carcassonne 27 Avignon 18
Lézignan 26 St Estève-XIII Catalan 18
Sunday 20 June
Carcassonne v Lézignan 16:00
(at Stade Ernest Wallon, Toulouse)
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