In the final game of year, the 2017/18 Top14 Round 14 fixtures favoured sides at the top of the table. Montpellier, La Rochelle and Racing all facing the bottom three sides.
But could either Brive, Agen or bottom side Oyonnax defy the odds and end the year on a high?
Here’s all you need to know from last round of 2017:
La Rochelle 47-6 Agen
Agen’s trip to La Rochelle was always going to be a one-sided affair. Unfortunately for the visitors, that’s just the way it turned out. Seven tries through seven different scorers blew Agen away. The bonus point victory was the home side’s first win in four in all competitions and Agen’s away form was never going to spoil La Rochelle’s party at home.
Replacement back Paul Jordaan was arguably the hosts’ best player. Jordaan topped the stats in metres gained (77) and defenders beaten (4). His introduction on 50 minutes helped push the game further and further away from Agen. Their defensive frailties proved costly and gave Jordaan and ‘Man of the Match’ Pierre Aguillon the opportunities to attack.
— Stade Rochelais (@staderochelais) December 30, 2017
A sixth game of the season scoring over 40 points allows La Rochelle to go into the new year top of the league.
Stade Francais 22-12 Bordeaux
Stade’s good fortunes in the league continue, and they dispatched a Bordeaux side that have looked worthy of a play-off spot of late. Despite not securing the bonus point, Stade take four points from Bordeaux; a side who have beaten La Rochelle, Montpellier and Toulon this season, will be a hugely confidence boost for 2018.
But the news of Bordeaux head coach taking up position as the national team coach could impact on the short term for Bordeaux, before some normalcy is restored. Jacques Brunel was on hand, but his side was unable to hold back the Parisian side.
Stade’s storming full-back Tony Ensor was undoubtedly the game’s best player. Topping the stats in attack, the New Zealander has proved to be a vital weapon in Stade’s arsenal. His team look to kick on and move away from the foot of the table. Bordeaux on the other hand, need a level of consistency that could reward them as the season progresses.
Brive 29-10 Montpellier
Brive’s outstanding display against league leaders Montpellier was their finest result of the season. In doing so, it moves them above Agen into 12th place–and to relative safety.
Montpellier were completely shut down in attack; Brive’s defence were by far the better of the two for the full 80. Flanker Said Hireche proved a thorn in Montpellier’s side. With 21 tackles, Hireche’s defensive work rate was match winning in itself.
Even in attack, the home side had all the answers – two tries for Nadir Megdoud helped pick up an invaluable bonus point. The win ended a three-game losing run and equated to only a second victory in seven in all competitions. A real confidence booster for Brive going into 2018.
Oyonnax 12-16 Racing 92
Despite another loss, Oyonnax have proved a team difficult in breaking down this season. A fourth losing bonus point of the campaign; as well as draws against Toulouse and Clermont, highlights how Oyonnax’s season could come down to those pivotal bonus points.
It was Racing’s quality that prevailed though, in Top 14 Round 14 results. A solo Marc Andreu try and 11 points from the boot of Teddy Iribaren proved decisive in the final result. With only two losses in their previous nine games in all competitions, Racing take advantage of other results to reduce the gap with La Rochelle at the top, to just three points.
Toulouse 18-13 Toulon
Toulouse gained a vital victory against a side they haven’t beaten since April 2016. The home-side’s game plan was executed perfectly – scoring at every opportunity. However, despite a try-less display, Toulouse’s Zack Holmes and top points scorer Thomas Ramos kicked their side to a win.
Toulon’s ball carrying superstars failed to breakdown the resilient Toulouse defence. Scotsman Richie Gray, playing the full 80 minutes, was heroic in helping reduce Toulon to just one try. Both Gray and loosehead prop Laurent Delboulbes produced a stat-topping tackle count that elevates Toulouse from mid-table to equal points with Toulon. (Although Toulon go in to 2018 with the same number of wins to losses with seven) Toulouse can use this win as more motivation for 2018.
Lyon 35-23 Pau
A win for Lyon saw them pick up their first win in five games in the league. Their barren run dropped them to the mid-table, despite being top earlier in the campaign. The team hoped that the festive season would bring them a valuable prize….although not in fashion stakes!
— LOU Rugby (@LeLOURugby) December 31, 2017
Lyon’s four tries kept Pau ‘chasing the game’. They had the right mindset, although had the hosts lost it would have been overshadowed by the sending off of Francisco Gomez-Kodela. A red card for a shoulder charge at the ruck failed to dispel Lyon’s attacking intent. Thibaut Regard and Liam Gill both touched down, even with a man down in the second forty.
Pau’s Colin Slade and Tom Taylor kept their side in the contest, but even with the extra man [due to the red card] they couldn’t find a way to breakthrough. The defeat ended a three game unbeaten run, but favourably Pau’s points tally is enough to cushion them above the sides who are fighting the relegation battle.
Clermont 27-31 Castres
Castres secured their seventh consecutive league win in dramatic fashion. A try in the last seven minutes ended Clermont’s unbeaten home run in the Top14 since April. It was another great result for the visitors, although Castres’ four tries weren’t quite enough to secure the bonus point [1 BP for scoring at least 3 more tries than the opponent] but has propelled them from tenth after round seven to third place.
The momentum they have generated will undoubtedly give them the confidence to compete for their first title since 2013 and a fifth in the club’s history. Conversely, it’s looking more and more unlikely Clermont will successfully defend their title. A consolatory losing bonus point ends Clermont’s year in ninth place… 13 points off the pace, and with a huge amount to do if they wish to stake a claim in the playoffs.
The conclusion of Round 14 undoubtedly brought some shock results. Most notably though, is Castres’ rise from the depths of the table to a ‘genuine title contender’.
— TOP 14 Rugby (@top14rugby) December 31, 2017
Round 15 could also be an opportunity for the bottom sides to get results against unlikely opponents. Brive’s huge win against Montpellier will hold them in good stead for the arrival of Toulon. However an emphatic win at Agen could likely be Castres’ eighth win in a row.
Happy New Year from Aaron Tillyer, and all the team at Last Word on Rugby.
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