Chris Ashton
RC Toulon's French winger Chris Ashton scores a try past Stade Français Charl McLeod during the French Top 14 rugby union match Toulon vs. Stade Français at The Mayol Stadium in Toulon, southern France on February 17, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT (Photo credit should read ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP/Getty Images)

After a two week break, French rugby’s Top14 Round 17 kicked off with La Rochelle’s trip to Racing, being the tie of the round. Both sides went into the weekend equal on 50 points, in joint second place. But Racing’s form at home and La Rochelle’s form on the road dictated which team ended the round on top.

Many other crucial matches were also played, as the championship enters the last third of the season.

Here’s all you need to know from another big weekend of French rugby:

Toulon 43-5 Stade Français

Chris Ashton stole the show for Toulon, in their dominant display over strugglers Stade Francais. A first half hat-trick inside 32 minutes, had the game sewn up by the break.

Ashton’s three tries takes his tally to 17 for the season, in just 15 appearances for the southern French side. With only nine rounds to play, Ashton is just four short of Napolioni Nalaga’s record of 21 in a single season.

Further tries from Mathieu Bastareaud, Eric Escande and Raphael Lakafia secured the bonus point. Toulon continue their unbeaten run at home since November. A solitary Laurent Panis try spared Stade’s blushes of being nilled by a strong Toulon side. The Parisian side will need to pick up vital points as they prepare to face sides below them in their next two rounds. Failure to do so could have significant ramifications on their season.

Oyonnax 30-43 Montpellier

Montpellier spent the majority of the game attacking the Oyonnax line. Their rush defence holding at times, but caught them out for the visitors’ first two tries. A couple of neat kicks through gave Benjamin Fall an easy run in and the second resulting in a penalty try. Oyonnax gave as good as they got, with the league’s top points scorer Ben Botica giving his side the platform to attack. Curtis Browning, Daniel Ipkefan and Ulupano Seutuni all touching down.

But the Top14 has shown this season that even with as high a score as 30 points, there’s no guarantees of a losing bonus point, let alone a win. Two tries for Fijian Nemani Nadolo takes his tally to 14 for the season and keeps his side in top spot in the league. Relegation favourites Oyonnax remain at the bottom of the table nine points adrift of 13th.

Agen 25-52 Toulouse

A Gael Fickou and Yoann Huget lesson in attack against Agen contributed five of Toulouse’s eight try haul. Fickou harassed the Agen defence in midfield, breaking the line on numerous occasions. Aided by the awareness of fly half Zack Holmes to spot the space, unforced errors also gifted an attacking platform for Toulouse.

Agen finished brightly, scoring three tries of their own, bringing an element of respectability to the scoreline. But as has been apparent this season, Agen’s defence has faultered and failed to handle what they’ve been up against. But Fickou and Huget will take the plaudits, the former providing a glimpse of his former self, having fallen out of flavour with the national side.

Brive 16-21 Pau

Brive were the only side in the bottom three to pick up points in Round 17, albeit a losing bonus point. It gives them a two point cushion over Agen and moves then to within two of Stade Francais. Brive could have even gone on to win the game had it not been for the moment of madness when replacement hooker Francois Da Ros’ red card for head butting.

Having returned from their recent excursion in the Brisbane Global 10s, Pau ground out the hard fought victory thanks to a Watisoni Votu try and the boot of Tom Taylor. A fifth victory in a row in all competitions, it allows Pau to distance themselves with Bordeaux mid table. Brive still have to play Oyonnax, Agen and Stade Francais and points in all three games are likely to confirm their position in the league next season.

Lyon 36-10 Clermont

The crisis continues at Clermont after a fifth consecutive league defeat. This time they suffered at the hands of a Lyon side that took full advantage of an error-strewn display. Three of Lyon’s five tries were a result of poor errors of judgement from Clermont’s defence. The visitors’ energy and desire was brought into question on numerous occasions. Despite being plagued with injuries, Clermont’s relatively inexperienced defence looked lacklustre in tracking back and preventing Lyon surging forward.

Lyon’s Liam Gill was outstanding – winning turnovers and completely dominating the breakdown. In defence, Gill forced errors in what possession Clermont did have and worked hard in the loose to carry and gain metres. Clermont remain five points ahead of Stade and with nine rounds to play, will need to return to winning ways to avoid following up a Top14 title win with a relegation battle.

Bordeaux 6-7 Castres

In the lowest scoring game in the Top14 since September 2015, Castres left Bordeaux with the narrowest of victories. In an unflattering performance from both sides, Julien Dumora’s converted try proved the difference over Baptiste Serin’s two kicks at goal. Winning ugly is still winning and with only nine points seperating the top seven sides, Castres are still within touching distance of making the playoffs.

Bordeaux on the other hand, have arguably given themselves too much to do. With Mathieu Jalibert out of action due to injury, Bordeaux’s run-in includes facing Toulouse, La Rochelle and Racing. A feat they’re unlikely to gain from.

Racing 92 19-12 La Rochelle

Racing move up into second place with a win that continues an incredible run for the Parisians. Having lost only once at home all season, La Rochelle’s trip to Paris promised to be the tie of the round. Racing’s new home at the U Arena is well suited for running rugby and that’s just how the game took shape. Racing’s ball carriers exploited space in the La Rochelle defence and likewise against them.

The battle at No.8 between Yannick Nyanga and Afa Amosa resulted in both touching down for well worked scores. Brock James’ second half cameo injected an intensity into La Rochelle’s game that’s nearly saw them leave Paris with more than a losing bonus point. Racing are increasingly looking like a side capable of winning the title. La Rochelle likewise, but their away form is setting them back.


Standings after Top14 Round 17 results:

In Round 18 this weekend, the fireworks maybe set for Toulon’s trip to La Rochelle. But the key tie will be Stade Francais hosting Agen. Both sides desperately need points to move away from the foot of the table.

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