Valuable Willie tortures Toulon looks back at the past weekend’s French Top 14 matches, involving South African players.

–  Toulon’s era under a new coaching regime got off to a shaky start as they slumped to a 28-23 loss against Bayonne. Flyhalf Willie du Plessis, who was at Toulon last season, starred for Bayonne with a crucial eight-point haul via a conversion and two penalties. Tighthead prop Marcel van der Merwe made his debut for Toulon and was joined on the field in the 55th minute by Juan Smith, who was yellow-carded two minutes afterwards.

– Lyon’s first match back in the Top 14 resulted in a 15-15 draw with Brive. Locks Peet Marais and Wilhelm Steenkamp and flank Paul Hauman played for Brive, who tied up the scores with a late penalty. Former Bulls flyhalf Jacques-Louis Potgieter enjoyed a 10-minute cameo for Lyon.

– Stade Français made the best possible start to the new season with a crushing 54-20 bonus-point victory over Grenoble in Paris. Fullback Gio Aplon starred for Grenoble with a brace of tries, but it wasn’t nearly enough to counter the rampant Stade’s five-try feat. Meyer Bosman represented Stade from the beginning of the second half, while compatriot and flank Willem Alberts was sent on in the 60th minute.

– Scrumhalf Ricky Januarie scored a crucial try as La Rochelle snatched a 30-30 draw with Clermont on Saturday. Clermont, with former Bok Flip van der Merwe at No 4 lock and Scott Spedding at fullback, led 24-17 at the break but La Rochelle fought back to share the spoils.

– Castres, playing with 14 men for over an hour after scrumhalf Rory Kockott was sent off, defied the odds to beat Pau 28-11 in an ill-disciplined contest. Kockott, who started alongside Castres’ new signing Robert Ebersohn (inside centre), was given a straight red card for stamping in the 19th minute.

– Bordeaux, featuring lock Jandré Marais, cause the upset of the weekend when they edged reigning champions Racing 15-9. Lock Francois van der Merwe and No 8 Antonie Claassen started for Racing, but were both replaced in the second half.

– Montpellier, with inside centre Frans Steyn, flank Wiaan Liebenberg, lock Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg and hooker Bismarck du Plessis in their starting lineup, slumped to a 20-12 defeat against Toulouse, who had props Maks van Dyk and Gurthrö Steenkamp in their ranks. Montpellier also featured Arno van Wyk (hooker), Paul Willemse (lock), Pierre Spies (No 8), Cameron Wright (scrumhalf) and Demetri Catrakilis (flyhalf) on their bench.

Photo: Manuel Blondeau/Getty Images

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