TOULON, FRANCE - DECEMBER 09: Chris Ashton of Toulon is tackled during the European Rugby Champions Cup match between RC Toulon and Bath Rugby at Stade Felix Mayol on December 9, 2017 in Toulon, . (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Chris Ashton, the forgotten Englishman, is quickly becoming somewhat of a hero in Southern France. Edging closer to becoming the all time top try-scorer in Toulon colours, murmurs of what could have been are ever present, particularly with England faltering in the attacking department. But a Top14 Round 22 clash against Clermont was all Ashton needed to set the record straight and equal Napolioni Nalaga’s tries scored in a single season.

With only four rounds to go before the playoffs, there’s just no telling how far Ashton will go. The outright record is likely his. And in his first season in France, it will make it that much more sweeter. [Note: in second place, Nemani Nadolo has 15 so far in 2017/18]

Here’s all you need to know about Toulon’s huge victory, and the rest of the weekend’s Top 14 Round 22 action:

La Rochelle 31-20 Bordeaux

The game looked to have been won after half an hour, with La Rochelle scoring three quick tries. Charles Bouldoire, Dany Priso and Tawera Kerr-Barlow all touching down. But despite Bordeaux’s recent struggles, they made a game of it. Pierre Gayraud and Jandre Marais scored to put the pressure back on La Rochelle. The ever-reliable Alexis Bales came up with the goods in the dying stages to hand La Rochelle the bonus point – a huge victory that may determine their overall finish.

La Rochelle number eight Afaesetiti Amosa was once again the creator of so many opportunities for the home side. He made 14 carries that built solid momentum, and a top four place is becoming ever more realistic. Fortunately, a 10 point cushion over Stade Francais may just be enough for Bordeaux not to get embroiled in the battle at the foot of the table.

Stade Francais 33-37 Toulouse

Stade have been involved in some epic encounters this season. The visit of Toulouse was no different. Given their recent form, Stade really took it to their visitors – scoring four tries and yet still emerging as the losing side. Jules Plisson’s recent form hasn’t been to standard he himself would want it to be, but to kick the penalty in the last play of the game, rewarded his side with a losing bonus point. Toulouse set a precedence – two early tries and Maxime Medard’s second half score pushed the scoreline out of Stade’s reach.

Zack Holmes played the starring role for Toulouse. A 100% kicking display really helped Toulouse keep the scoreboard ticking over and scoring at every opportunity. Having gone from a twelfth place finish last season, Toulouse are quickly becoming title contenders and keep the pressure on Toulon and Racing. Stade’s losing bonus point gives some hope as they continue to cling on to relegation survival.

Pau 33-12 Oyonnax

Team-of-the-moment Oyonnax looked to be building momentum after four straight victories but a fifth wasn’t to be. Pau’s untarnished winning run at home since October continues, with a comfortable victory. The home side hit back for an early Mitch Inman try for Oyonnax, with three of their own. Wotisoni Votu the standout, with a bull dozing run after the second half restart to touch down in the corner. A disrupted second half failed to provide the entertainment the first 40 did, but Oyonnax did get the final say through Benjamin Geladen after some sustained pressure.

The loss means Oyonnax drop to the foot of the table, but their fate hasn’t been sealed just yet. A week’s break will mean they will be refreshed to face Brive and Agen in the coming rounds, who sit just above them. With only three points separating certain relegation with survival, two wins could see them remaining in the Top14 for another season. A ninth win in 10 for Pau, has elevated them on a path that could see them making it in to the playoffs; just reward for their run of form.

Brive 15-12 Agen

Both teams needed the win to help their case for survival and with Oyonnax falling to Pau, an opportunity to gain ground certainly opened. Brive were duly rewarded in a try-less game – a game that came down to the kickers. Both defences held out and neither found any openings. Gaetan Germain held his nerve for Brive keeping his side in front for the duration. Jake McIntyre and Hugo Verdu on the other hand missed a couple of kicks that could have proved crucial in the final outcome; as well as for their entire season’s fate.

Despite a third loss in a row, Agen came away with a point to put them level with Stade in twelfth place.

On the other hand, this was Brive’s first win in seven league games, and moves them back in to 13th place. Replacing Oyonnax, the players did not ‘jump for joy’ post-match, with four crucial games still to play in the monumental relegation battle.

Montpellier 45-7 Castres

The league leaders cruised to a comfortable bonus point win over Castres. Montpellier’s South African contingent once again showing their strength. Former Springbok Bismarck du Plessis scoring two of Montpellier’s five tries. Ruan Pienaar’s kicking was near faultless and even Frans Steyn got in on the action with a drop goal. Castres failed to handle the might of the hosts’ back three – Jesse Mogg, Nemani Nadolo and Benjamin Fall all wreaking havoc in attack. Joe Tomane’s move to inside centre proving hugely influential to accommodate Fall, resulted in him scoring and attacking the Castres defence.

Montpellier’s winning run at home continues and remain in top spot ahead of the European quarter finals this weekend. Castres, in eighth, succumb to their third loss in four games. What once looked a likely prospect, a top six finish is quickly fading into the distance.

Toulon 49-0 Clermont

A dominant Toulon were unrelenting in their attack against Clermont, who were kept pointless for the first time since 2005. In a seven try demolition, Toulon starved Clermont of possession in the first half. Costly errors compounded Clermont’s inexperience at times they did secure the ball.

Toulon’s man-of-the-moment Ashton scored his twenty-first try of the season and now equals Nalaga’s record for tries scored in a single season. He would have likely secured the record had Malakai Fekitoa not touched down for his two tries. With Ashton’s two support runs, he would have scored his twenty-second and twenty-third.

There were bright spots for Clermont under the circumstances; Damian Penaud the only player to cause Toulon any trouble. A series of line breaks and arcing runs gave Clermont opportunities, only for them to dissolve any ball. Likewise the timely return of Camille Lopez will provide some hope ahead of their Champions Cup quarter final tie with Racing.

Lyon 22-24 Racing 92

A tense finish for Lyon saw them needing 10 points to secure victory in the final 10 minutes of the game. With the game locked at 15-24, ill discipline cost Racing two of their players. Remi Tales was sent to the bin for collapsing a maul while Ben Tameifuna was given his marching orders for repeated infringements at the breakdown. Both incidents could have warranted penalty tries, being so close to the Racing line. Lionel Beauxis eventually crossing with a well worked move to give his side one last opportunity to win. Despite Lyon recovering possession, a late knock on ruled out any last gasp win, but 22 Beauxis points did secure a losing bonus point.

With Racing clinging on to victory, they remain in second place and keep the pressure on Montpellier. A top six finish isn’t over for Lyon, who sit just four points away in seventh, but home form is crucial if they’re to secure any chance of a playoff place.

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Top14 Round 22 Wrap

With the break in league fixtures to accommodate the the Champions and Challenge Cup quarter finals, a week off will be a welcome sight for certain teams. Only four rounds remain of the normal season and yet at either end of the table, places are still not yet confirmed.

Whilst it may be a little more easier to identify a potential top six, predicting who will face the drop is becoming increasingly more difficult. Only three points separating the bottom four will make for an intense and exciting finale. One not to be missed.

 

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