In the final league games before the resumption of the European competitions, the Top14 round 15 action promised yet more movement at the top and bottom of the table.
La Rochelle and Montpellier are vying for top spot, having swapped places on numerous occasions so far in 2017/18. While Agen and Brive continue to push further away from promoted Oyonnax, who are still glued to the foot of the table.
Predicting the French Top14 round 15 results is difficult enough, especially following the surprises and shocks that have occurred in previous rounds. Here’s all you need to know from the weekend’s action:
Bordeaux 19-10 Lyon
Bordeaux took full advantage of a Lyon side battling to find form. With no away win since October, Lyon fell to an opportunistic Bordeaux who took the initiative. Scoring at every given chance, Matthieu Jalibert kept the scoreboard ticking over. A try apiece, Lyon failed to overcome a side struggling for form themselves after some inconsistencies in results for Bordeaux.
However, the jostling of head coaches failed to impact on their performance. Club President Laurent Marti announced the promotion of Rory Teague last week following Jacques Brunel’s departure to coach the national side.
— Sky Sports Rugby (@SkySportsRugby) January 6, 2018
Teague, the former England skills coach, will be keen to put together some consistency in the league. However, Lyon will find some respite from the battles of the French league, as the European competitions take over for the next two weeks.
Brive 13-12 Toulon
Brive followed up an incredible victory over Montpellier in round 14, with just a just spectacular win over Toulon. A try from winger Benjamin Lapeyre in over-time prevented Toulon’s first win at Brive since October 2014. The one-point win was Brive’s second consecutive league victory since April, highlighting their struggles at the bottom end of the table.
Nonetheless, the invaluable win moves the side to within three points of Stade Francais. Despite Toulon looking the more likely winners in the low scoring affair, Brive are starting to become a side capable of going the full eighty minutes – something we haven’t seen for while. Toulon’s lethargy in parts could prove their downfall this season, with the hope of silverware, slowing slipping away.
Agen 30-3 Castres
Undoubtedly the result of the round, a near perfect performance from the side battling possible relegation. To stop Castres scoring and deny an eighth consecutive win, as well as registering their first bonus point league win since 2016 was outstanding. Former Queensland Reds fly-half Jake McIntryre was instrumental in Agen’s dominance and contributed 15 points with the boot. The three-try victory moves Agen nine points clear of Oyonnax after Top14 Round 15, and just one point from Brive in 12th place.
Ma’ama Vaipulu’s red card for Castres virtually eliminated his sides’ chances of getting anything from the game. A cynical and dangerous clear-out at the ruck – along with Agen’s incredible defensive effort – which kept Castres try-less for the first time since September. No doubt they will regroup and push on, but a fifth home win for Agen may have just been the catalyst in saving their season.
Oyonnax 38-38 La Rochelle
Incredibly, Oyonnax have been involved in three of the four Top14 league draws this season. All three have coming at home – Toulouse, Clermont and now La Rochelle. Their most recent perhaps their best – the league leaders on a high in both domestic and European competitions. Four tries for Oyonnax, including a first of the campaign for former Springbok Bjorn Basson, capitalised on costly La Rochelle ill-discipline.
Despite the lead changing hands, Oyonnax had the last word, compounding La Rochelle’s form on the road. A sixth away loss meant Montpellier could replace them by the end of the round. Oyonnax would remain in bottom place, but picking up points in the unlikeliest of places is providing a glimmer of hope in delaying the inevitable.
Montpellier 28-16 Stade Francais
Montpellier took full advantage of La Rochelle’s slip at Oyonnax, with a bonus point victory over Stade. Fijian Nemani Nadolo securing maximum points after touching down for his 16th score of the season in all competitions.
— Montpellier Rugby (@MHR_officiel) January 6, 2018
Former All Black Aaron Cruden controlled his side’s attack, keeping the Stade defence guessing on numerous occasions. Opposite Cruden, Jules Plisson’s unconvincing display won’t have done himself any favours ahead of the French Six Nations squad announcement next week.
Yet another defeat for Stade continues to pull them further down, with both Brive and Agen within touching distance. Stade still have to play all three sides below them and could find themselves in the unfortunate position of a relegation battle before long.
Pau 11-10 Toulouse
A hard fought victory for Pau resulted in them extending their unbeaten run at home since October. Pau scored all 11 points in the first half, but the game offered very few opportunities to both sides. Despite a try each for both sides, Jean-Marc Doussain had the golden opportunity with 10 minutes to go to win the game for Toulouse. The Frenchman missed the penalty kick, handing Pau the victory.
Pau move up to ninth above Clermont, while three consecutive away losses for Toulouse keeps them in sixth place. With only two away wins this season, Toulouse will need to back up their home form if they are to finish the season on a high.
Racing 58-6 Clermont
An eight-try win for Racing blew away their opposition in a ruthless display of attacking rugby. It was a blitzkrieg that will send a message to other sides after the Top14 Round 15 results.
Clermont’s season continues to have disastrous consequences, with the number of players on the injury list. It includes the likes of Morgan Parra, Camille Lopez and Alivereti Raka – key players that Clermont dominated their positions earlier in the season. Clermont’s young players, tasked with handling Racing’s powerful ball carriers, resulted in yet further injury concerns.
The game was marred by a powerful collision between Racing’s Virimi Vakatawa, who touched down twice, and Clermont’s 18-year old Samuel Ezeala that left the young winger unconscious on the pitch. Fearing for Ezeala’s health, doctors and medical officials had to use sheets to block vision before he was stretchered off to hospital. [Vakatawa visiting the young Frenchman later in a show of ‘rugbyunited’ values].
An eighth loss for Clermont and a third in a row means defending their title is ‘all but over’. Meanwhile, Racing look like genuine title contenders, who now sit in third with equal points with La Rochelle (see below).
— TOP 14 Rugby (@top14rugby) January 7, 2018
Round 16 of the Top14 will return after the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup over the next two weekends. Castres and Racing will lock horns, in what will be arguably the contest of the round. Both sides are flying high and both will want to keep the pressure on La Rochelle and Montpellier.
Interestingly, Oyonnax, Brive and Agen all have away fixtures. An away win for either side could prove valuable in the quest for Top14 survival – especially with Stade in their sights.
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