Biarritz return to Top 14 after exhausting derby win

·2 min read
Biarritz fans packed the playoff to cheer their team to promotion

Biarritz returned to the top flight of French rugby on Saturday as their tense playoff final against neighbours Bayonne ended with a nerve-racking penalty kick tiebreak.

After the teams finished tied at 6-6 at the end of extra time in Biarritz, the promotion-relegation playoff was decided by kicks at goal from the 22-metre line.

Each team landed their first five kicks before Bayonne centre Aymeric Luc missed.

Bayonne No. 8 and captain Steffon Armitage then held his nerve to give Biarritz a 6-5 tiebreak victory and return the five-time French champions to the Top 14 after an absence of seven years.

"We told the players before the penalty shoot-out that they had been lions," said Biarritz coach Shaun Sowerby. "That they had shown a lot of courage."

"I feel for the Bayonne team. It's cruel, but that's sport."

In the 113th derby between the Basque rivals the two teams cancelled each other out for 100 minutes of hard-fought action.

The home team were buoyed by a vociferous home crowd which appeared to exceed the limit of 5,000 and showed little respect for health rules or social distancing.

Bayonne, whose own ground is 5km to the east, had played crowd noise at their training sessions in the build up, to accustom themselves to playing once more in front of hostile fans.

In a game with more commitment than creativity, Biarritz lost fullback Romain Lonca and fly half Ilian Perraux to injury in the first 20 minutes.

Bayonne flanker Filimo Taofifenua went off for a concussion assessment after 24 minutes, later returned only to then go off for good after a second blow to the head before extra time.

Bayonne also lost hooker John Ulugia to injury before half time.

"Neither team really took the initiative, so it became a stalemate," said Bayonne coach Yannick Bru. "The psychological dimension suffocated the game."

"The result is dry, cold and hard on Aviron Bayonne."

Perraux's replacement Gilles Bosch gave the home side the lead with a penalty after 32 minutes. Bayonne fly-half Maxime Lafage replied after 53 minutes.

In extra time, James Hart again gave the home team the lead with a penalty.

Fullback Gaetan Germain, who had gone off at half time but returned in extra time, responded for the visitors with six minutes left.

"I'm exhausted, everyone is exhausted," said Sowerby.

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