If Round 17 was anything to go by, the Top14 Round 18 fixtures would be another step up. With teams constantly changing positions and wins coming from the unlikeliest of places, this highlights that progress to the playoffs and battles for relegation is by no means a done deal.
Here’s all you need to know from the weekend’s action:
Montpellier 11-10 Bordeaux
Montpellier remain at the top of the table with the narrowest of victories over Bordeaux. The home side’s South African contingent combined to win the game for Montpellier. A Frans Steyn crossfield kick, gathered by Springbok Jan Serfontein, to go over in the corner. A couple of Ruan Pienaar kicks eventually pushed the game just out of reach from a Bordeaux side that won the reverse fixture back in September.
The league leaders prolong their unbeaten run at home in the league. Conversely, Bordeaux’s struggles on the road suffer another setback having not won away since their Oyonnax victory back in September. With fly half Simon Hickey missing his kicks at goal, Bordeaux are beginning to miss the versatility of Matthieu Jalibert – a player they could call on during the first half of the season to help win them games.
Castres 33-22 Lyon
Castres’ game management was the key difference that won them the game against Lyon. Accumulating points at every opportunity continued to keep the score out of Lyon’s reach. Both sides found the try line on three occasions – Toby Arnold the standout for Lyon with a double. Arnold’s work in attack as well as winning his side turnovers, failed to materialise in securing victory. The win for Castres keeps them in contention, with only three points separating second place and Castres in fifth.
Lyon continue their fall from grace. No win on the road since October looks to have put them out of any grasp of a title-winning season. Injuries and absences are beginning to take its toll on a side, like Bordeaux, that looked likely to compete during the first half of the season.
Stade Francais 34-36 Agen
A thrilling nine-try encounter where both sides desperately needed to win, saw Agen snatch victory at the death. Despite being evenly matched throughout, Agen’s five tries helped secure their very first away win in the league all season. Pierre Fouyssac’s man-of-the-match display with two tries typified Agen’s desire and determination in not giving up. Filipo Nakosi (five defenders beaten), Facundo Bosch (two clean breaks) and Antoine Erbani (17 carries) were relentless in a stunning Agen victory.
#ArgentinosPorElMundo 🇫🇷Benjamín Urdapilleta en el equipo ideal de la fecha del #Top14. Mauricio Reggiardo, el mejor entrenador, luego del gran triunfo de Agen como visitante ante el Stade Francais. pic.twitter.com/7MXU7i13B8
— Periodismo Rugby (@PeriodismoRugby) February 26, 2018
Stade contributed themselves and were so close to pulling off a much-needed win. Tony Ensor once again leading from the front in taking the fight to Agen. The victory for Agen though, dramatically reduces the gap to just one point between the two sides. Although they remain in twelfth, a seven point deficit with Clermont doesn’t look impossible for Agen to reduce even further.
Clermont 12-18 Oyonnax
In another huge away victory for a bottom-three side, Oyonnax’s win at Clermont further compounds the defending champions’ struggles. It was another error-strewn display from the home side that Oyonnax were able to capitalise on. Taking nothing away from Oyonnax’s performance, they were magnificent in grinding out an invaluable win. Fly half Ben Botica providing the instrumental link in the midfield to give his side the edge. A crucial Vincent Debaty try late on, after early Remi Lamerat and Peter Betham tries for Clermont, was enough to seal a remarkable win.
A third loss at home in the league for Clermont, including two in three rounds, means they are slowly being caught by teams below them. Oyonnax close the gap with Brive to just seven points with the impossible looking that slightly bit more possible for the bottom side. With only eight rounds of rugby to play, time is slowly ticking against Clermont. They will need to significantly turn around their fortunes before they find themselves in a relegation battle.
Pau 24-15 Racing 92
Pau’s home victory against the in-form Racing ends a five-game winning run for the Parisians. The valuable four points moves them ever closer to La Rochelle, with only two points separating the two sides. Despite both teams being evenly matched throughout, two tries for Watisoni Votu takes his tally to nine overall this season. Racing did give themselves an opportunity to win towards the end with a Xavier Chaveau try.
However, Pau’s Tom Taylor kicked the penalty late on that prevented any comeback for Racing. The Paris-based side remain in second, but Pau are elevated above Lyon into seventh, with a top six spot well within their grasp. However, their inconsistency during the season may just prove their downfall as the business end of the campaign approaches.
Toulouse 45-28 Brive
Toulouse had to wait until the 81st minute to secure the bonus point with a penalty try. Brive put up a respectable fight, but didn’t have the quality the opposition were able to call upon. Toulouse’s man-of-the-moment Yoann Huget once again put in a display worthy of a call up to Les Bleus. Another two tries takes his tally to seven for the season and five in two consecutive games. Not bad for a guy recently returning from injury.
For Brive though, the only bottom three side not to pick up points slip down into thirteenth. A seven point cushion over Oyonnax looks favourable at present but there’s still plenty of rugby to play. Toulouse push up into third place, one point above Toulon.
La Rochelle 20-27 Toulon
Toulon picked up only their second win at the Stade Marcel Deflandre since 2004 courtesy of tries from JP Pietersen and Ma’a Nonu. Despite the away side’s victory, La Rochelle’s hooker Pierre Bourgarrit scored one of the tries of the season. With the confidence to back his pace, Bourgarrit’s try put the hosts on the front foot. However La Rochelle’s erratic second half penalty count and Anthony Belleau’s boot kept seized the win.
— Paul Eddison (@pauleddison) February 25, 2018
Toulon have strengthened their league ascension of late and a fourth place finish after Round 18 puts them in a strong position. La Rochelle on the other hand have followed the same path of once high-flying Lyon into mid table. 10 points is now the gap between them and Montpellier in top spot.
As another round draws to a close, the home straight beckons. With Round 19 coming up, the immediate reaction is whether Clermont can get back to winning ways. A home tie against La Rochelle will be the last thing they need having lost to Oyonnax. Nothing more than a win will do to gain some control in the table.
— TOP 14 Rugby (@top14rugby) February 25, 2018
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