Top 14 Toulon held to last-gasp draw by troubled Grenoble

Grenoble were playing two days after deciding to sack players facing accusations of drugging and raping a girl they met in a nightclub.

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Grenoble's prop Ali Oz (L) passes the ball to lock Thomas Jolmes on March 19, 2016 play

Grenoble's prop Ali Oz (L) passes the ball to lock Thomas Jolmes on March 19, 2016

(AFP)
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Jonathan Wisniewski hit a last-minute conversion to seal a dramatic 23-23 draw for troubled Grenoble with Toulon in the Top 14 on Sunday.

Grenoble were playing two days after deciding to sack players facing accusations of drugging and raping a girl they met in a nightclub.

The identities of the players and how many are accused have not been revealed.

But the team responded well on the pitch, maintaining an unbeaten home stretch dating back to early December, although the club has racked up only five victories this season.

The draw also meant that Toulon haven't won away in the Top 14 since September 11, at Toulouse.

But they do move up into fifth, sixth-placed Castres two points adrift with a game in hand after their match against Stade Francais was postponed after Stade players continued strike action in protest at the plan to unify the club with Paris rivals Racing 92.

Toulon were to wear pink armbands in support of the Stade players' actions, but that came to nothing after the proposed merger was called off just before the match.

"It feels like a victory," said Grenoble centre Fabrice Estebanez, with the team languishing in 13th place in the table, three ahead of bottom side Bayonne but 11 off Stade Francais in 12th.

"All points count, we'll carry on right to the end."

Toulon skipper Juan Martin Fernandez said his team had been left "disappointed" by the result.

"When you have a 17-point lead and finish 23-all, it's a shame," the Argentinian No 8 said.

"We knew that they'd come through a tough week, but that type of thing can tighten a squad."

Toulon opened the scoring after Romain Taofifenua bumped his way through four tackles of a porous defence for a try converted by Pierre Bernard.

A break by Bernard saw the fly-half pop the ball up for prop Laurent Delboulbes to crash over. A second conversion and penalty took Toulon out to 17-0 up and a whitewash looked on the cards.

But to the home crowd's delight and despite being down to 14 men with Fabien Alexandre in the sin bin for a high tackle, Fijian back Maritino Nemani easily stepped Mathieu Bastareaud for a try converted by Wisniewski for a perfect boost on the stroke of half-time.

Wisniewski on target

The Grenoble captain, with rumours swirling that he will sign for Toulon next season, traded penalties with Bernard early in the second period.

Toulon's Australian flanker Liam Gill was yellow carded in the 64th minute for a ruck infringement, Wisniewski on the mark again to cut the visitors' lead to four points.

Toulouse's winger Alexis Palisson scores a try during a French Top 14 rugby union match against Lyon on March 19, 2017 play

Toulouse's winger Alexis Palisson scores a try during a French Top 14 rugby union match against Lyon on March 19, 2017

(AFP)

But then came an arcing run from Grenoble full-back Fabien Gengenbacher, who split the leaden-footed defence down the left flank and passed inside to Australian flanker Henry Vanderglas for the try.

The home side needed the conversion for the draw and Wisniewski held his nerve, landing the extras off the post to tie the scores.

Earlier Sunday, Alexis Palisson went over for a hat-trick as Toulouse ran in five tries in their 42-26 victory over Lyon, who themselves ran in four tries.

Jean-Marc Doussain kicked 20 points as Julien Marchand and Gillian Galan also crossed the whitewash for Toulouse.

On Saturday, La Rochelle racked up an eighth successive victory with a 36-17 stroll against Brive to consolidate their spot atop the table.

Clermont, eight points adrift of La Rochelle, condemned Pau to a nine-try 65-13 rout, and are now eight points ahead of third-placed Montpellier, whose match against Racing was also postponed because of the merger talks.

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