The Top14 Round 16 action resumed after the final pool fixtures of the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup competitions. The French are well represented in the quarter finals – Toulon, Clermont, La Rochelle and Racing 92 all progressing in the Champions Cup. Pau, Stade Francais and Brive likewise, in the Challenge Cup.
Round 16 in the league meant a number of teams lost players to international duty in preparation for the Six Nations.
With pressure on both the top and at the bottom of the standings, now really is the time to ‘take advantage’ and pick up invaluable points.
Here’s all you need to know from the weekend’s action:
Toulon 36-12 Bordeaux
Having lost their young talismanic fly-half in Matthieu Jalibert to the French national squad, Bordeaux looked all at sea against Toulon. The home side shot out of the blocks and had essentially won the game by half time. A dominant opening 40 culminated in five tries, including Chris Ashton’s fourteenth league score of the season. Despite Josua Tuisova’s red card just after the half hour mark, Toulon were comfortably ahead. Tuisova’s poor tackling technique costing his place on the field.
Bordeaux did manage to restrict Toulon to just one try in the second half, but the visitors failed to inject any desire of their own to compete. Despite two tries, Bordeaux continue to struggle domestically. They slip to ninth place, having not won away in the league since September. The bonus point victory for Toulon pushes them further up and into fourth, level with Castres and Toulouse.
Lyon 71-17 Agen
Lyon’s Baptiste Couilloud sent a clear message to the French powers that be, having been overlooked in France’s Six Nations squad, with a scintillating display against Agen. The scrum-half missed out on a place in Jacques Brunel’s squad. It didn’t seem to faze him though, scoring three tries in the process and dominating Lyon’s attacking stats. The Agen defence couldn’t handle Couilloud’s quick thinking and clinical finishing, notching up 180 running metres, beating seven defenders in the process with four clean breaks.
Alongside Couilloud, Lyon’s forwards were brutal up front. Two tries from the rolling maul and their ferocity in the scrum wore down Agen’s pack. Inept in defence, they missed an incredible 31 tackles.
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A 10 try rout, and a convincing bonus point win advances Lyon to within touching distance of being back in the top four. Agen remain in 13th place, and ensnared in the relegation battle.
La Rochelle 33-24 Brive
La Rochelle continue their impressive season – a quarter final spot in their debut outing in the Champions Cup, as well as increasing their unbeaten run at home in the league. A routine victory over Brive keeps them within one point of Montpellier – mind you, a bonus point would have given them top spot.
With three former All Blacks on show, two were able to touch down through Jason Eaton and a first of the season for newcomer Tawera Kerr-Barlow. A double for winger Elliot Roudil kept the hosts on top despite a resurgence for Brive with three tries of their own.
Brive’s erratic penalty count cost them possession and territory and was the platform for La Rochelle to attack. Long periods in defence created errors and gaps for the home side to plug. However, La Rochelle’s next three games include Racing, Toulon and Clermont and may falter in comparison to Montpellier’s next three. Brive stay where they were in twelfth and still just three points from Stade Francais.
Toulouse 37-15 Oyonnax
Toulouse left it late to secure the bonus point with two late tries to surge up the table into sixth place and level with Castres and Toulon. Thomas Ramos, once again Toulouse’s stand out figure with 17 points, including a try for his side. The home side’s expansive rugby caught the Oyonnax defence unawares on a number of occasions and they subsequently failed to learn from their mistakes. Both Gael Fickou and Maxime Medard kept Toulouse on the front foot – beating defenders and progressively churning up the metres in attack.
Oyonnax’s defence were on overtime and notably second-row Phoenix Battye emptied the tank with an astonishing 20 tackles. Ill-discipline got to both sides with Toulouse’s Yoann Maestri and Oyonnax’s Rory Grice both shown red cards in the second half. The game was won at this stage, with Toulouse having the greater desire to pick up the extra point.
Castres 13-18 Racing
Despite Racing losing key players to the French Six Nations squad, the visitors held on for a hard fought victory. Castres’ home form has been excellent this season, having only lost once in the league before round 16. Both sides were evenly matched throughout but it was the 142kg loose-head prop Ben Tameifuna that broke the deadlock. The giant forward bulldozed over from close range that sealed the win for the Parisian side.
Castres had to rely on the boot of Ben Urdapiletta to salvage the losing bonus-point towards the end. Racing’s run continues and their fourth consecutive league win elevates them up in to second place and equal points with La Rochelle. Castres move to fifth in a three-way battle with Toulouse and Toulon.
Stade Francais 5-40 Pau
Pau registered their biggest win of the season so far. And with it, their first try bonus point in the league. Pau’s six try haul completely blew Stade away.
Even at home, Stade looked non-existent for the majority of the game, having leaked four tries in the opening half hour. The contrast in performances reflects Stade Francais’ awful season. Only a handful of points away from teetering into the relegation battle zone–if they do not turn things around quick.
For Pau, Colin Slade directed the ship with ease, punishing Stade with a constant attacking threat. A deserved ‘Man of the Match’ and he is the L’Équipe selection for number 10 this week.
— Section Paloise (@SectionPaloise) January 29, 2018
Slade will be hoping his side can replicate their performance when the two sides meet in the Challenge Cup quarter final. Pau will have home advantage, but for the time being edge further up the table – three points off fourth place. Stade remain in eleventh and will be glad all three sides below them failed to pick up any points this week.
Clermont 29-30 Montpellier
In the most dramatic of finishes, a converted Nemani Nadolo try snatched victory out of Clermont’s grasp. Both sides were even throughout, just one point separating the teams at the break, but Nadolo was the man to break Clermont hearts. The Fijian’s eighteenth try of the season for Montpellier condemned Clermont to their fourth consecutive league loss.
There were positives for the reigning league champions. Greig Laidlaw made a timely return from injury, scoring 19 points from the boot. Similarly, a poor run of form for Montpellier’s Louis Picamoles saw him touch down twice and responded to the decision of being dropped for the Six Nations in remarkable fashion.
As the business end of the season looms, picking a winner still seems a difficult task, given only eight points separate the top six teams. In contrast, Oyonnax look the likeliest of the relegation strugglers to make the drop, but with Stade’s poor run of form continuing, things aren’t set in stone just yet.
— TOP 14 Rugby (@top14rugby) January 28, 2018
With a break in fixtures over the next two weeks, Round 17 will return with La Rochelle’s trip to Racing undoubtedly the tie of the round. A win for either side will further stake their claim as title contenders and with Racing’s home advantage, they may just sneak it.
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