The Top 14 round nine had the expectation of a standout weekend. Third placed La Rochelle had the chance to gain ground on leaders Lyon, while Toulouse (fifth) and Bordeaux (sixth) could cement their place in the top four.
With the announcement of the French squad ahead of the November internationals, it paved the way for some new faces to emerge.
Here’s all you need to know from the weekend’s Top 14 round nine action:
Toulouse 38-37 Bordeaux
A closely fought battle between these two sides was expected, but perhaps not in the manner it was played. In a thrilling encounter, both sides’ attack prevailed and only a point separated two deserved winners. Toulouse attacked from deep and utilised their back three to great effect. Cheslin Kolbe capitalised on a Bordeaux error as well as good handing from Gael Fickou to touch down twice.
In comparison, Bordeaux brought their offloading game to break down the Toulouse defence. Jean-Pascal Barraque scoring a standout try that epitomized Bordeaux’s well-executed game plan. 18 year old fly-half Matthieu Jalibert was exceptional in getting his side on the front foot as well as kicking 17 points. Jalibert’s inexperience shone through though, missing a penalty in the eighty-second minute that would have won the game for Bordeaux. The visitors picked up a vital bonus point to keep pressure on teams above.
Oyonnax 19-32 Castres
If Oyonnax are to survive their relegation battle with Agen and Brive, they will need to rely on their home form. With only one home win in all competitions this season, they could be facing a tough task in staying up. The strength of Castres proved too much for the home side and Julien Dumora once again showed his class at full back.
Capitalising on the home side’s errors, Dumora started the move that resulted in a Rory Kockott offload that sent the full back over the line. Too many penalties hampered any go forward from Oyonnax, despite sustained periods in the opposition half. Castres fly-half Ben Urdapiletta was on hand to punish Oyonnax with the boot. Castres’ four points take them further up the table while other results could see Oyonnax end the round at the foot of the table.
Racing 23-20 Pau
Racing 92 haven’t been as clinical as we’ve come to expect from the Parisian side of late. It’s one of the reasons why they sit mid-table and aren’t competing at the top. Pau have shown recently they’re no walkover so their trip to Paris would be an opportunity to mount the pressure on Racing. It was difficult to separate the two sides, with both lacking the accuracy to take control.
Defensively, Pau met the Racing challenge – it was only in the final few moments did the game really turn. Pau, close to a famous win, allowed Marc Andreu to get behind the defence to score for Racing. A Patrick Lambie cross field kick caught Pau unawares, especially having to defend with two less men. Ultimately, the flurry of late ill-discipline proved costly. Conrad Smith and Charly Malie were sent to the bin for professional infringements. Racing snatched the victory while Pau emerged deflated with only a losing bonus point to answer for their endeavours.
Lyon 15-19 La Rochelle
Leaders Lyon and third placed La Rochelle was perhaps the standout fixture in round nine. Both sides have been impressive since the season began back in August. The battle of the fly halves promised attack, but it was the boots of Frederic Michalak and Brock James that took centre stage. Both sides had enough ball and opportunities, but just couldn’t find the killer play that gained the upper hand.
The two French heavyweights went pound for pound but both sides seemed to come up with the answers in defence. La Rochelle’s Alexis Bales did eventually get the breakthrough and the deciding try. James had the final say for La Rochelle, who applied the pressure on the home side late on to hold out for victory. Despite the loss Lyon held on to top spot ahead of Montpellier’s tie with Clermont. La Rochelle on the other hand, closed the gap to just three points.
Agen 26-24 Toulon
Agen celebrated their incredible victory over Toulon like it was a cup final. Hugo Verdu’s penalty kick in the dying stages, secured only a second win of the season. The home side kept up with the pace of Toulon throughout and were even ten points ahead in the first half. Agen took their opportunities in attack and stood firm in defence – both sides implementing a hugely physical approach.
There were question marks over Chris Ashton’s move to full back for Toulon. The winger’s three tries, taking his tally to nine in nine games, answered them emphatically. His link up play with newcomer Semi Rhadradra showed how good a move it was for the visitors. With such diverse attacking options, including former All Black Malakai Fekitoa, utilising them rotationally could prove a success as the season progresses. In the short term, Toulon remain mid-table and Agen move into twelfth.
Brive 20-19 Stade Français
Brive moved off the bottom of the table after an enthralling victory over Stade Français. The visitors led for the majority until a converted Mathieu Ugalde try and subsequent Gaëtan Germain penalty gave Brive a narrow lead. Stade had the chance to win the game but Jules Plisson failed to convert a Steevy Cerqueira score late on.
Brive are a team that have failed to play for the full eighty minutes at times this season. But when the Brive defence charged down the Stade drop kick that could have sealed the game, it showed progression and perhaps a change in fortunes. As Brive’s change for the better, Stade’s woes continue as they flirt with the bottom half of the table.
Montpellier 28-24 Clermont Auvergne
Following Lyon’s defeat, Montpellier had the opportunity to end the round on level points at the top. The home side snatched a narrow victory in the final quarter having been behind for the majority of the game. But both sides looked to play wide and were rewarded for doing so. Both Nemani Nadolo and Francois Steyn took advantage for the hosts. Two tries each effectively sealed the game.
Likewise Clermont’s Fritz Lee scored brilliantly in the corner following some good wide play. Conversely, they failed to take advantage of having the extra man in the wide channel when Nadolo was sent to the bin in the second half. Montpellier contained the Clermont attack and forced numerous turnovers. Despite good performances from both sides, a losing bonus point for Clermont means the reigning champions fall further behind the pace.
Top 14 Round Nine Wrap
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With teams at opposing ends of the table securing opposing results, this season has already shown that teams can beat anyone on any given day. Oyonnax fall to the bottom as Lyon’s lead continues to narrow. Reigning champions Clermont fall further behind the pace and quickly need to change their season around to have any chance of defending their title.
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