Two decisive Top14 round 12 fixtures at opposite ends of the table meant invaluable points were on offer – to push ahead at the top, and to escape immediate danger at the bottom.
The top two teams in Montpellier and La Rochelle would battle it out for the league lead ahead of the European competitions. Likewise, Oyonnax were looking to build on their incredible draw against Clermont with a crucial trip to Brive.
Here’s all you need to know from the weekend’s action:
La Rochelle 26-14 Montpellier
La Rochelle knew a win would send them top of the league ahead of rounds three and four of the Champions Cup. The home side did just that and continued their unbeaten home record this season. Victor Vito, one of four former All Blacks on show, produced another inspiring display. His strong ball carrying constantly pushed the hosts over the advantage line. Botia Beivuke followed suit, out-muscling a Montpellier side who are used to dishing it out themselves.
The victory means La Rochelle have defeated both Montpellier and Lyon this season – two teams who have experienced the highs of top place. Delight at the team on the Bay of Biscay, yet for Montpellier though, they lose consecutive games for the first time since August 2016.
Toulouse 31-41 Castres
In what was a shock win for Castres, it now moves them up into fifth place. Having gone from the depths of the bottom half of the table, Castres’ recent form has elevated them into a side not to be taken lightly. Despite Castres taking the plaudits in the ten-try thriller, Toulouse dominated the stats.
Scrum half Antoine Dupont was instrumental in leading his side’s charge. The young Frenchman notched up 103 metres, beating 10 defenders in the process.
Overall, it was Castres’ never say die attitude that won them the game. The post-match photo showing how strong the team culture is currently.
Victoire Historique. Merci aux supporters, vous êtes ÉNORMES !!! pic.twitter.com/AAnvfoCbkS
— julien caminati (@JulienJucami) December 3, 2017
A fifth straight victory, including the scalps of Toulon, La Rochelle and now Toulouse looks to have turned their season around. Conversely, a third loss in five for Toulouse has seen them drop down to sixth – a point below Castres.
Brive 33-30 Oyonnax
The bottom two sides going into round 12, both Brive and Oyonnax have a habit of producing some great rugby. Both teams deserved the victory to be honest, and as a reward both teams ended up leaving with points.
Gaetan Germain’s 18 points for Brive just managed to edge past an Oyonnax team who were still ‘bouncing’ after a surprise draw at Clermont in round 11. Opposite Germain, Ben Botica also put in a display worthy of a win. His 15 points unfortunately couldn’t quite push his side over the line though.
Brive’s third league win of the season pushes them above Agen, and now four competition points above Oyonnax who remain in bottom place. With only a small margin separating the bottom three, who survives the relegation battle is still too tough of a call for Last Word on Rugby to make.
Pau 27-17 Bordeaux
In a strong defensive performance, Pau looked to score at every opportunity. Both Colin Slade and Tom Taylor took advantage of points on offer and kept the scoreboard ticking. Even with their young talisman in Matthieu Jalibert, Bordeaux failed to get the consistency we’ve seen of late. Despite the heavy loss to La Rochelle in round 11, Pau adopted a resilient attitude preventing Bordeaux from playing their attacking rugby.
Pau’s win sees Bordeaux drop down to ninth in the table, having won only once in their last four games. Pau meanwhile enjoy the classic home form cliché which is allowing them to distance themselves above Stade Francais – five points now the difference.
Toulon 39-11 Lyon
Both sides went into Top 14 round 12 looking to avoid four straight losses in the league [a run Toulon haven’t experienced since 2008]. Seven of Lyon’s travelling group were playing in the black and red of Toulon not so long ago, but were looking to get one up for their new club.
The second best defence in the league was no match for Toulon’s might and power. The home side used their wrecking ball in Mathieu Bastereaud to gain the upper hand, before playing the ball out wide which proved extremely fruitful for the teams English flyer.
— blog-rct.com (@Blog_RCT) December 3, 2017
A double for Chris Ashton (see main picture) further increases his 2017/18 try scoring lead. Napoli Nalaga’s record of 21 from 2008/09 well and truly in his sight. Ashton’s thirteenth in just 11 appearances is quickly becoming a fan favourite at the Stade Felix Mayol.
Lyon haven’t won at Toulon in 12 attempts, and continue to fall off the pace at the top. A bonus point win for Toulon moves them up to within touching distance of the play-off spots, which will be the least owner Mourad Boudjellal will expect of his team.
Clermont 35-26 Agen
Despite being in the relegation battle at the foot of the table, Agen have impressed this season. They have pushed teams all the way – not forgetting their victory over Racing in the opening rounds – but close losses will not bring success in Top 14. Yet, Clermont’s fortunes this season have seen them also being inconsistent. Failing to hit the heights of last season. Fortunately for fans, they showed resolve in this home fixture.
More positively though, Les Jaunards haven’t lost at home in all competitions. Their Top 14 round 12 victory continued that trend, edging Agen five tries to four. Five different try scorers highlights Clermont’s strength in attack, but frustratingly, cannot do it consistently.
After round 12, Clermont will be disappointed with a mid-table showing. Having lost points in a number of winnable fixtures, the reigning champions will be hoping for some form going into the New Year. The one ‘feel good moment’ to recall from this fixture was the below on-field tussle.
ils profitent de la bagarre general pour se caliner
romeo et juliette pic.twitter.com/MwOjU0VuuX
— Philou (@philousports) December 3, 2017
For Agen, they remain just above Oyonnax, with no away win since April.
Stade Francais 27-17 Racing 92
A brilliant display from Stade in the Parisian derby halted Racing’s pursuit of a fifth straight victory. The game was over after just half an hour – Stade had racked up 24 points, stunning Racing into submission. A comeback looked hopeful, but the hosts had done enough to quell the huge task, despite only scoring three points in the second half themselves. Stade’s flanker Sekou Macalou got through a mountain of work – carrying, gaining territory and offered no resistance in defence.
Racing fielded a strong side and probably should have won on paper, but their performances on the road have left much to be desired for Laurent Travers’ men.
A Racing win could have propelled them into second, following Montpellier’s loss but remain in third level with Lyon. A vital four points for Stade increased the gap with Brive to seven points, with Pau ahead of them in their sights.
Top14 Round 12 Wrap
Inconsistency seems to be the only consistent trend of the Top14 this season. Castres’ current run of five straight wins is incredibly the longest winning run of any team this term.
— TOP 14 Rugby (@top14rugby) December 3, 2017
Round 13 will follow two weekends of European competitions and La Rochelle, who sit atop of their league Pool, will be looking to continue their impressive debut in the Champions Cup.
For the time being, both Montpellier and Lyon’s recent struggles may not be a cause for too much concern just yet. But, the thought of ‘peaking too soon’ may just start to creep in a few of the their fans minds. Time to become consistent, rather than a hero one week/villain the next.
Main image credit:
Embed from Getty Images