Competition at the foot of the table is gaining momentum and a Top14 Round 20 clash for Oyonnax at Bordeaux, is the pick of the action. Timing their form just right could be just the catalyst, for pulling off the ‘great escape’ from relegation.
And as teams watched on, as the national side devastated English hopes of a third Six Nations title, it will have buoyed the local players spirits.
Here’s all you need to know from the weekend’s French rugby:
Montpellier 41-3 Racing
It was first against second to kick off the weekend’s action, but Montpellier ran out comfortable victors. A bonus point victory increases the leaders’ position at the top, while Racing failed to score a single try for the first time since October.
The supreme-Springbok Jan Serfontein touched down twice, with Nico Janse van Rensburg, Louis Picamoles and Timoci Nagusa all scoring to secure the bonus point, with ease. Montpellier failed to score in the reverse fixture earlier in the season. However they’ve now only lost once in their last six league games.
Racing fall to their second successive away defeat. The gap now eight points, with a handful of game to play. Racing will no doubt be sticking around as the playoffs approach.
Bordeaux 20-26 Oyonnax
Oyonnax could be set to pull of the greatest escape – winning their second away game in a row. This time victory over struggling Bordeaux. The visitors seem to be saving their run of form for just the right time. Ben Botica once again proving the difference. And yet again, deservedly earning another ‘Man of the match’ accolade; with 16 points. Mitch Inman and Quentin MacDonald crossed for tries, to give Oyonnax the valuable win.
Bordeaux did get two tries of their own – yet Ed Fidow and Apisai Naqalevu’s efforts were in vain for the hosts. Bordeaux are now winless in five attempts, despite Laurent Marti putting his faith in head coach Rory Teague with a contract extension until 2021.
— James Harrington (@Jamesonrugby) March 10, 2018
Oyonnax sit just one point from Brive, and now six points secured, to maintain a relegation ‘safe zone’. Oyonnax seemingly handling the pressure best; at present, with six rounds left to play.
Pau 18-15 La Rochelle
Pau move up into fifth place with a last minute Thibaut Dambagna penalty securing their latest win. A sixth league win in a row in fact. Pau are just two points adrift of Racing (who are in second place). As for La Rochelle, only one win in five has really seen their fortunes turn.
In another Colin Slade masterclass, the former All Black finished off an outstanding try under the posts. But sadly, he was later knocked out and taken to hospital. Pau must have the services of the former-All Black–however, his health is key to the players longevity at the club.
— 1 NEWS – Sport (@1NewsSportNZ) March 13, 2018
Pau’s next two fixtures could place them well within contention to ‘knock Racing off their perch’. Both Bordeaux and Agen find themselves in trouble and their problems could be compounded with Pau hot on their heels.
La Rochelle on the other hand have to face Montpellier and Castres and neither will be straight forward contests.
Toulon 54-5 Agen
A convincing win for Toulon now sees them unbeaten in four of their last five league games. A third Chris Ashton hat-trick of the season pushes his try scoring to within two of the outright leading tries scored in a Top14 season. Napalioni Nalaga’s 21 tries is now well within the grasp of Ashton, only in his first season in the French top flight. Fans may still be asking why Ashton continues to be overlooked by England head coach Eddie Jones.
Chris Ashton has scored his third hat-trick of the season for Toulon tonight.
Takes his tally to 20 tries after 20 rounds of #Top14 rugby.
Wonder if Eddie Jones has heard of him 🤔🤔
— Aaron (@AaronTillyer) March 10, 2018
Two tries for Facundo Isa, and one each for Vincent Clerc, Malakai Fekitoa and Laurent Delboulbes sealed the bonus point win. Agen’s recent run of form was ended by Toulon, having been victorious in their last two league games.
However Toulon face Racing and Montpellier in their next games, so Top14 Round 20 celebrations need to be kept for another time. Agen will need to get back to winning ways, to ensure their own relegation safety.
Brive 9-11 Clermont
A Peceli Yato try snatched victory from Brive, who looked odds on to take a home victory. It was a first away win of the season for the defending champions, who secured a vital four points. A win that now moves Clermont closer to Bordeaux in ninth place.
They also move eight points above Stade Francais, who remain in 14th–but the 2016/17 title holders do not look entirely comfortable. Luistair made a good cameo performance, in of their maestro Greig Laidlaw.
brive Home team in Relegation ‘Duel’ with Oyonnax
A losing bonus point for Brive does keep Oyonnax in at the foot of the table. It is Brive’s continued ability to pick up these points that could be their saving grace. Both teams pursue a further season in the Top14 however, Brive still have to face Agen and Oyonnax in the next few rounds. Results which could be crucial in their fight for survival.
Stade Francais 23-17 Castres
An unlikely win for Stade – their first in six league outings, keeps them above Agen. A one point cushion thanks to tries for Hugh Pyle and Waisea Vuidravuwalu, as well as 13 points from the boot of Morne Steyn.
Despite the win, Stade are yet to face Clermont, Lyon, Brive and La Rochelle. Therefore, their safety from relegation isn’t confirmed, and could still find themselves facing the drop to the ProD2.
Castres are safe inside the Top 8, however they must promote better discipline, to reduce penalties conceded.
Toulouse 20-27 Lyon
A win for Lyon elevates them back in to the top six and playoff spots. Had Toulouse secured victory, they would have been sat comfortably in second. A lost opportunity for the Toulousain men – their first home loss since December.
Second half tries from Toby Arnold and Delon Armitage helped Lyon to a first away win of 2018. Despite Toulouse being 14-0 up; through Cyril Baille and Yoann Huget converted tries, the boots of Michael Harris and Frederic Michalak edged Lyon to victory.
So, much needed wins for both Clermont and Stade. Wins that will quell the whispers of relegation, for now. Oyonnax’s dream of staying in the Top14 is quickly becoming a reality but keeping their heads as the season draws to a close will be key.
— TOP 14 Rugby (@top14rugby) March 11, 2018
Round 21 will tell the next chapter in the league that keeps on giving, especially if Pau can make it seven from seven, and Oyonnax continue plans for their ‘great escape’.
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