The Top 14 kicked off last weekend, and it didn’t disappoint. There were big wins for both Montpellier and Toulon as well as disappointments for Stade Francais and Clermont Auvergne to begin the 2017/18 championship.
Having made the move across the channel to Toulon, Chris Ashton impressed on debut. Two tries and a try saving tackle completed a near perfect start for the winger.
Similarly, Aaron Cruden picked up where he left off at the Chiefs Super Rugby side. The fly half had a hand in two of Montpellier’s tries in their win against Agen last week. He looks to be enjoying his move north – could the Southern team replicate that in round two?
Here’s all you need to know from the weekend’s Top 14 Round Two action, with the league table, showing the winners and losers of French Rugby.
Agen 23-19 Racing 92
Newly promoted Agen held on to crucial win despite a late losing bonus point try for Racing. Racing did themselves no favours when Anthony Tuitivake was shown a red card at the end of the first half. Tuitivake’s tip tackle highlighted Racing’s ill discipline and proved costly for the 2015 champions.
The visitors lead up to that point following an early Brice Dulin try. Ricky Januarie responded with a try for Agen which saw them take the lead into the break. The home side didn’t look back and a further score for George Tilsley extended the lead. Despite two second half Racing tries from Teddy Thomas and Bernard Le Roux, Jake McIntyre’s boot kept Agen one step ahead.
Agen elevate themselves off bottom spot ahead of an away tie to fellow Top 14 newcomers Oyonnax in round three.
Stade Francais 35-24 La Rochelle
Stade looked a rejuvenated side following their opening round defeat to Lyon. The home side dominated last season’s surprise package in La Rochelle. The hosts touched down four times through Antoine Burban, Alexandre Flanquart, Sergio Parisse and Jonathan Danty. The bonus point secured after only thirty minutes.
The visitors failed to gain any foothold during the first half, despite a consolatory try from Dany Priso. Their fortunes were further compounded when Priso was shown a yellow card for repeated infringements less than ten minutes later. Stade emerged from the break and picked up where they left off. Tony Ensor touched down for Stade’s fifth after some superb attacking play.
It wasn’t until Stade were reduced to fourteen with Willem Alberts in the bin, that La Rochelle began to compete. A perfect scrum on the Stade 5m line took advantage of the numbers Andrew gave Afa Amaso a run over the line. A further penalty try in the dying stages gave La Rochelle the final say but Stade left with maximum points.
Castres 33-19 Bordeaux
After a narrow four-point loss to Racing in the opening round, Castres looked a greatly improved side in their five-try win against Bordeaux. Both sides’ fly halves exchanged a penalty kick early on before Bordeaux got the game’s first try. A great Jean-Baptiste Dubie line break gave a neat inside pass to scrum half Yann Lesgourgues who scored under the posts. The successful conversion opened up the lead for Bordeaux.
Despite both sides trading kicks, Bordeaux increased the lead with another Simon Hickey penalty. The visitors could only muster two more kicks in the entire game, as Castres began to control the mometum. The home side’s rolling maul proved fruitful and opened up the flood gates as Loic Jacquet went over for the first try. The set piece continued to pressurise Bordeaux and wasn’t long before No.8 Ma’ama Vaipulu crossed from the back of the scrum.
Bordeaux struggled to gain any control in the second half and Castres took the lead with a well worked David Smith try. Despite the missed conversion, two late tries from Alex Tulou and Rory Kockott ensured an emphatic Castres bonus-point win.
Montpellier 37-6 Oyonnax
Montpellier made it two from two against newcomers Oyonnax in a one sided display. Montpellier’s South Africans dominated the scoresheet with four of the five tries. Bismarck du Plessis was first to touch down, after an early Ruan Pienaar penalty, from a lineout on the Oyonnax 5m line. Two penalty kicks in quick succession resulted in the away side’s only points of the game.
Oyonnax offered little resistance thereafter and Montpellier’s control and clinical finishing prevailed. Pienaar extended his team’s lead with some good combination work with Louis Picamoles off the back of the scrum. The second half continued as in the first. Montpellier attacking and Oyonnax defending for large periods. Further scores from Francois Steyn and Henry Immelman brought up a second bonus point in as many games for Montpellier. Picamoles rounded off a great afternoon for his new club, who now sit two points clear at the top.
Having seen off both of the leagues newly promoted sides, sterner tests are sure to come for a side high on confidence.
Toulouse 23-16 Pau
Toulouse opened up the scoring early on against Pau and it was a case of never looking back. The home side came away the victors after a highly draining game. Thomas Ramos kept the scoreboard ticking over with a couple of early penalties. Colin Slade responded with one of his own, but Maxime Medard scored the game’s first try after some good handling work in the corner.
Ramos continued to keep Toulouse on top and further increased their lead. Pau’s ill-discipline got the better of them with two yellow cards either side of half time. Despite a succession of substitutions midway through the second half, the momentum stayed with Toulouse. Cheslin Kolbe finished a wonderful attacking move to dive over in the corner for the home side’s second try.
WATCH: Cheslin Kolbe finishes off this fantastic team try for Toulouse against Pau: https://t.co/yHrKyMk8lf
Pau fought hard to get back in the game and a late flurry of points, including a try from Julien Tomas, meant they left with a losing bonus point.
Lyon 29-14 Brive
Lyon backed up their first round victory (at Stade Francais) with a comprehensive second half display against Brive. Deadlocked at 9-9 at the break, both Lionel Beauxis and Gaetan Germain exchanged penalties at goal in a closely contested half.
It was Lyon who emerged from the break the more determined of the two teams, immediately pressuring the Brive defence. It paid dividends with scrum half Baptiste Couillard diving over. Beauxis converted to open up a seven point lead. Brive’s defence were on the back foot from the restart and Lyon continued to mount attack after attack. Infringements from the visitors allowed Beauxis to turn the screw and slot a penalty to further increase the lead.
It was more of the same once again from the restart and a break in attack resulted in wing Alexis Pallisson with an easy five-pointer. Beauxis continued his excellent kicking to take the score further away from Brive. The away side eventually began to build phases of their own deep in the second half. Georgian Vasil Lobzhanidze secured a consolation try from their endeavours, but it was too little too late.
Lyon had the final say though, Beauxis kicking a final penalty three minutes from time to keep his kicking rate at 100%. A great start for Lyon sees them sitting in second place with a two point cushion ahead of a trip to Pau on Sunday.
Clermont 21-16 Toulon
In a re-run of last season’s Top 14 final, Clermont once again prevailed. However, it was Toulon who started the brighter of the two. Newcomer Chris Ashton continued his fine start to the Top 14 with his third try in only his second game for Toulon. A blindside move from Samu Manoa and Sebastien Tillous-Borde gave Ashton the space out wide, to take the lead.
But it would be Toulon’s discipline that would effectively lose them the game. The penalty count began to steadily rise and two yellow cards in quick succession highlighted their ill-discipline. Romain Taofifenua was given his marching orders for making no attempt to use his arms in the tackle. Ma’a Nonu joined him soon after for a no arms shoulder charge. It immediately allowed Clermont to make use of the numerical advantage.
Sustained pressure in the Toulon half and a brilliant solo effort from Alivereti Raka got Clermont back in the game. Damian Penaud got on the score sheet early in the second half following a deft grubber kick through from Camille Lopez. A further yellow card, this time for Clermont’s Peceli Yato, also for a tackle infringement underlined the game’s distinct lack of regard for player welfare. Two further penalty kicks for Toulon were enough to secure the losing bonus point.
The win for Clermont moves them up to ninth and Toulon slip to fifth with four points and five points respectively.
Montpellier now open up a lead on the Top 14 table. It is only Round Two, but with Lyon holding a slight gap over the rest, consistency now will advance your case for the playoffs in 2018.
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