Racing See Red, Lyon Crush Oyonnax: Top 14 Round Eight Wrap

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The referee Jerome Garces gives a red card to La Rochelle's French lock William Demotte (unseen) during the French Top 14 rugby union match between La Rochelle and Toulouse on October 29, 2017 at the Marcel Deflandre stadium in La Rochelle, southwestern France. / AFP PHOTO / XAVIER LEOTY (Photo credit should read XAVIER LEOTY/AFP/Getty Images)

The break in league fixtures for the start of the European competitions offered some respite for the league’s struggling teams. But the Top 14 round eight fixtures gave teams like La Rochelle and Toulon the chance to further their pursuit of leaders Lyon.

Here’s all you need to know from Top 14 round eight:

Toulon 41-24 Brive

Having nearly succumbed to the Scarlets in the Champions Cup, the pressure was on Toulon to stage a convincing home performance. Against bottom side Brive, they did just that. A couple of wayward disciplinary moments aside, Toulon were threatening and clinical against a woeful Brive defence. Six tries for the hosts, including a double for Chris Ashton–who continued his fine scoring form for his new club.

The winger showed his pace in fine fashion for his first score. Receiving the ball in the midfield in his own half, his arcing run along the touch line before his signature ‘Ash Splash’ sent the Stade Mayol into raptures.

His second personified his work rate – popping up at the right time with a supporting run that finished off a fine team try. Toulon momentarily move into fifth, but come the end of the season, Ashton’s heroics could well see him rewarded. Brive remain at the foot of the table with just five points.

Lyon 52-18 Oyonnax

The bottom of the table is looking inevitably a battle between Oyonnax, Agen and Brive. Without a win in four league games, the away side had the unenviable task of travelling to the league leaders. Despite Lyon’s seven tries, it was their far superior ball handling that won them the game. Forwards and backs combined; offloading and running support lines were rewarded with the huge score and ultimately the bonus point to keep pressure on teams below.

Both winger Alexis Palisson and scrum half Baptiste Couilloud piled the pressure on the Oyonnax defence. With three tries between them, they constantly kept the pace of the game out of the reach of the away side. Surprisingly, neither player will feature for France in their two upcoming fixtures with the All Blacks. With Felix Lambey having withdrawn, no player from Lyon will join up with the squad ahead of their first two November international Tests.

Pau 16-22 Montpellier

Having spent the opening stages of the season at the top of the league, Montpellier were now playing catch up with Lyon. A loss at home to Exeter Chiefs in the Champions Cup did not provide the best preparation for a side widely tipped to land the Top 14 title. Winger Nemani Nadolo continued where he left off with yet another superb score. Montpellier’s clinical first phase play has been instrumental this season and Benjamin Fall’s break set up the Fijian to touch down.

Very few teams in the Top 14 score as frequently off the first phase, as Montpellier do. Likewise for their third try – the catch and drive off the lineout saw Louis Picamoles get over the line. Despite Montpellier not picking up the bonus point, Pau failed to contain the visitors’ gain line advantage. Both sides were rewarded – a losing bonus point for Pau was justly secured after a strong second half.

Montpellier remain in second, as Pau fall to eighth. In the changing rooms, the team seemed thrilled to be ‘back on song’ in 2017/18.

Racing 92 29-13 Bordeaux

Racing’s clash with Bordeaux was marred by the sending off of three players. Despite the home side’s win, two red cards spoilt what was an expansive game of rugby. Virimi Vakatawa was shown red on the half hour mark for a no arms shoulder charge to the head. Ten minutes from time, Racing’s Manuel Carizza and Bordeaux’s Sebastien Taofifenua were sent off following tempers flaring in an off the ball scuffle. Even with thirteen men on the field, Racing 92 still looked the stronger and were even able to secure the bonus point.

Racing’s wide players were heavily involved, with Teddy Thomas touching down and Brice Dulin constantly threatened the Bordeaux defence. Bordeaux matched Racing’s style of play and it paid off. Taking advantage of the numbers, the visitors got the ball wide at every opportunity. Winger Nans Ducuing and full back Matthieu Jalibert the only players to penetrate a resilient Racing defence that ended the game two men short. Both sides remain mid-table, with much to be said about their distinct lack of discipline.

Clermont 33-10 Stade Français

Clermont’s hugely physical contest with Stade Français added somewhat to the occasion. Both sides went into the game in need of points and neither side backed down from the ferocious collisions. But it was the class of Clermont that eventually shone through. Alivereti Raka, one of the Top 14’s most prolific try scorers was on hand to add to his season’s tally. Clermont looked to work him in to the game and call on him at every opportunity. He has the pace and strength to get over the advantage line in one-on-one situations, breaking the line and finding support runners.

Against Stade, he can add out-muscling the defender in the air to snatch the ball and dive over to his repertoire. Stade amounted passages together with guile and precision and would have been disappointed considering how they played. Replacement Jules Plisson added another dimension to Stade’s play in the second half – had he started ahead of Morne Steyn, things could have turned out differently.

Castres 43-28 Agen

Agen’s trip to Castres produced one of the games of the round. At times Agen looked the total opposite of a side battling the foot of the table. Three tries in six minutes in the second half looked favourably for Agen as they began to build a lead. The persistence and power of Castres wore down the visitors in the final quarter as fatigue kicked in.

For Agen, errors in their own half ultimately lost them the game. Castres were far more clinical and took advantage of the opportunities when they arose. Six tries for Castres and the resulting bonus point sees them move above Stade into tenth. Agen sit dangerously close to the bottom – separated by only a point with Brive.

La Rochelle 37-21 Toulouse

La Rochelle’s first taste of Champions Cup looked unsurprisingly like they had never been away. Opening wins against both Harlequins and Ulster highlighted their progression and how competitive we expect them to be. With the resumption of the Top 14, they continued their fine start to the season. Four tries and an exciting brand of rugby has seen them catapulted in to the top three.

Scrum half Alexis Bales produced another stunning display for La Rochelle. Twenty-two points, including a try, shows he is fast becoming one of the league’s best. The sniping scrum-half caused Toulouse problems in the loose and at the breakdown. His reliability with ball in hand and with the boot gives his side opportunities to attack in all areas. Toulouse made a real game of it – scoring three tries of their own – but came up against a far superior side. La Rochelle overtake Toulouse in third place – just two points behind Montpellier in second.

Top 14 Round Eight Wrap

As the table suggests, a bad game can change the whole makeup of the league. It will be interesting to see if Lyon can maintain their form and create breathing space between second and third place.

Lyon face La Rochelle this weekend and that should be a fascinating contest. A win for either side could prove crucial, as teams say farewell to key players on international duty.

Even so, round nine promises not to disappoint.

 

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