Gabin Villiere denied his France teammate Virimi Vakatawa what looked a certain try with a superb piece of never-say-die defence during Sunday’s Top 14 thriller between Racing 92 and Toulon.
The pair are set to link up for France during the 2021 Guinness Six Nations, having both been named in Fabien Galthie’s 37-man squad, but were on opposing sides in Paris in a star-studded encounter featuring Championship stars past and present.
The game was 20 minutes old, with Toulon leading 17-3 through Swan Rebbadj and Baptiste Serin, when a typically flowing Racing move culminated in Teddy Thomas’ exquisite offload giving Vakatawa a simple run to the line.
But with the centre in the in-goal area, he hesitated before grounding the ball – allowing Villiere to make his move.
The 25-year-old crunched into his Les Bleus teammate, dislodging the ball and sending it flying over the dead ball line to ensure Toulon retained their early advantage.
#TOP14 – ⚠️ Alerte sauvetage de la saison ⚠️
Il ne manque plus que le maillot de bain et la bouée et on peut se croire dans un épisode de “Alerte à l’Arena” avec ce sauvetage de Gabin Villière 🧑🚒🏊🚒 L’ailier du @RCTofficiel vient d’inventer le plaquage qui rapporte 5 points😮⛔️ pic.twitter.com/kvDh7iJ32f
— TOP 14 Rugby (@top14rugby) January 17, 2021
Vakatawa quickly made amends for his error, setting up Thomas for a try which put Racing ahead after Wenceslas Lauret’s earlier score, as well as showcasing the full range of his silky offloads.
Louis Carbonel’s penalty levelled the game at 20-20 going into half time and the fly-half slotted three further penalties after the break as Toulon ran out 29-23 winners – their first triumph at Racing since 2012.
In all, 14 members of France’s 2021 Guinness Six Nations squad were in action during the contest – including captain Charles Ollivon – as they tune up for their opening fixture against Italy in Rome on February 6.
Vakatawa will perhaps be relieved to have the tenacious Villiere with him rather than against him over the coming weeks as the pair look to help France secure a first Championship since 2010.
Captain Ollivon, meanwhile, may delegate the kicking duties after this heart-in-mouth moment…
— TOP 14 Rugby (@top14rugby) January 18, 2021