French Magic: Avignon open weekend with a win over Palau Broncos

James Gordon

Avignon opened the Elite 1 Championship season with a 23-12 win over Palau to kick-off the French Magic Weekend in Carcassonne.

Young full-back Corentin Rey scored a hat-trick of tries for the Bisons, who soaked up a lot of early pressure before taking command of the game.

They opened up a 16 point lead 10 minutes in to the second half and didn’t look back on a muddy pitch that had been played on in torrential rain by Carcassonne’s rugby union side on Friday night.

Palau, coached by former Super League forward Olivier Elima, started brightly and forced an early drop out off Kamel Belkhiri’s short kick close to the line.

But it was Avignon who would claim the first score, back-rower Romain Pourret showing nice hands on a couple of occasions, taking the ball to the line and then getting it away, and on one occasion he found Rey at speed, and the full-back pierced a hole in the defence to go over unopposed.

A lopsided penalty count was enabling Palau to dominate territory, they won six penalties in the opening quarter of the game but just couldn’t find a way over the line. That was until rangy back-rower Julien Bernard took a short ball 25 metres past a helpless Rey to level the scores at 6-6.

As the penalty count evened up, Avignon were able to make in-roads in to the Broncos half. Ironically off the back of a failed kick to touch off a Palau penalty, they were able to build pressure and the lively Rey grabbed the ball from dummy half and found his way over the line from 10 metres out.

Rey thought he had his hat-trick five minutes from half time, pouncing on a quick play the ball from Anthony Baudry close to the line to squeeze over by the side of the posts, only for the referee to say that he was short and award a penalty for dissent.

Avignon would extend their lead on the stroke of half time, Olivier Arnaud knocking over a simple penalty for 12-6.

Two tries in the opening 10 minutes of the second half would virtually seal the game for Avignon, Rey crossing for his hat-trick six minutes after the restart, and then left-centre Remi Andreu took a crash ball under his arm to fly over the line.

Half-backs Joris Bissiere and Jack Payne controlled the play for Avignon, and although they conceded a try 11 minutes from time that could have threatened a late Palau fightback, they were comfortable winners with Arnaud adding a drop goal with the final touch of the game to seal a win that gives them a bonus point in the league table.

Line-ups and scorers

Palau: Castany, Theresin, Carrere, Gambaro, Atba, Herrero, Belkhiri, Fakir, Boudebza, Janicot, Pomeroy, Bernard, Rosemplatt. Subs: Boudebza, Domergue, Djalout, Doutres.

Tries: Bernard, Castany. Goals: Herrero 2.

Avignon: Rey, Mallem, Arnaud, Andreu, Ghanem, Bissiere, Payne, Clement, Ganz, Naji, Comtat, Pourret, Romano. Subs: Baudry, Mendy, Durandal, Dorce-Hantz.

Tries: Rey 3, Andreu. Goals: Arnaud 3. Drop goal: Arnaud.

Half time: 6-12

Penalties: 9-6