The penultimate weekend of the regular season is behind teams, and a Top14 Round 25 clash at Stade Francais ultimately condemned Brive to the second tier of French rugby next season.
Having been threatened with relegation for the majority of the season, Oyonnax have a ‘final round reprieve’ before a likely repecharge fixture against the ProD2 front-runners, to determine their fate.
The only other confirmation of the Top14 Round 25 was Montpellier’s guaranteed semi-final spot. It assures them ‘virtually’ of a top spot finish – holding a six point advantage.
Here’s the action from another exciting weekend of rugby in France:
Toulon 59-13 Castres
A 23rd league try of the season for Chris Ashton extends his scoring record in the eight-try thrashing of Castres. Toulon’s backline were simply more clinical in attack and Ashton’s try epitomized the game plan.
Winger Semi Rhadradra breaking the line and feeding the Englishman’s support run to dive over. Josua Tuisova was threatening all game, picking up two tries in the process. Facundo Isa, Ma’a Nonu, Mathieu Bastareaud, Alby Mathewson and Rafael Lakafia all punished a weary Castres defence.
— TOP 14 Rugby (@top14rugby) April 28, 2018
A consolatory try for the visitors means they have to wait until the final round to determine their playoff chances. Toulon though, are guaranteed a playoff place but are still in with a shout of an automatic semi final place if results go their way.
Oyonnax 39-18 Lyon
A huge bonus point win saves Oyonnax from automatic relegation. Having been said throughout the season, Ben Botica has been worth his weight in gold. The New Zealander was once again in incredible form. He gave his side the very best platform to attack. Their two tries in the final minutes securing maximum points. Lyon’s Xavier Mignot made it easy for the hosts, interfering with a certain try [intentional knock on], that saw him leave the field, and a penalty try awarded for Oyonnax.
Earlier tries for Ulupano Seuteni (2) and Quentin MacDonald sets up a tense finale for Oyonnax who are still in contention to avoid the relegation playoff altogether. Oyonnax still have a slim-chance of finishing higher.
Next week they play Castres, and if this form continues, then round 26 is ‘all or nothing’ (dependant on how Stade go against La Rochelle). However, if they finish in 13th then Oyo face a repecharge game against the ProD2 runner-up.
A top six place is isn’t confirmed for Lyon either. And they also need results to go their way in a clustered mid-table.
Agen 27-17 Clermont
Agen’s comfortable victory over Clermont confirmed their Top14 survival. Having raced to a 24-3 lead with three tries, Clermont began to rally giving the Agen fans a heart in mouths moment towards the end of the game. Fritz Lee and Etienne Falgoux put Clermont to with seven points before a cool and calm Hugo Verdu penalty for the hosts denied Clermont any comeback and losing bonus point.
A first half red card for Sebastien Vahaamahina contributed to Clermont’s demise. His gesture to the Agen crowd summed up his side’s frustrating and disastrous season aptly. They may be safe from the bottom but they will be looking forward to the season finishing.
Montpellier 45-13 Pau
Leaders Montpellier backed up their Toulon defeat in fine fashion to secure their semi final place and a first place finish. The hosts dominated possession giving them a sound platform to attack and pressurise the Pau defence. Six tries for the home side, with former All Black Aaron Cruden scoring his third of the season.
— Montpellier Rugby (@MHR_officiel) April 28, 2018
Nemani Nadolo looked back to his best, with some storming runs up front. The Fijian set up a great Frans Steyn try before getting over the whitewash himself after a great Louis Picamoles offload.
Despite Pau’s loss, they still remain in contention for a top six finish. But as with other teams around them will be calling on results to go their way.
Note: Louis Picamoles suffered an injury, which appears to preclude him from the upcoming finals series. A huge loss for the Vern Cotter coached team, in their assault for the 2017/18 premiership.
Stade Francais 30-22 Brive
Stade’s win over Brive condemns the visitors to the ProD2 next season. The victory keeps Stade in the Top14 for another week and have their fate in their own hands. Out of sorts fly half Jules Plisson was in fine form for the Parisians, giving Les Bleus head coach something to think about ahead of their New Zealand tour.
His opening try and conversion set up a solid victory for Stade and individually contributed 22 points for his side. Sergio Parisse scored Stade’s second try but Plisson and Morne Steyn kept the scoreboard ticking.
Brive’s No.15 Thomas Laranjeira kicked 17 points for his side. Despite this, it was all in vain as Brive prepare to face teams in France’s second tier next season.
Bordeaux 15-39 Racing 92
A big bonus point for Racing sees them back in second place and the final automatic semi final spot. Racing were clinical but Bordeaux errors gifted the visitors numerous chances. Juan Imhoff scored twice from interceptions and loose passing from the Bordeaux players. Fijians Virimi Vakatawa and Leone Nakarawa both caused problems for the hosts’ defence and racked up nine offloads between them.
Bordeaux did get two tries of their own, and at one stage denied Racing the try bonus point. But Nakarawa was on hand to surge through the defence to get an outstretched arm over the line.
📽️ Dimanche, nos Ciel et Blanc retrouvaient Chaban Delmas une semaine après leur victoire en Champions Cup pour affronter l'UBB. Découvrez le résumé vidéo de la victoire du Racing (15 – 39 ) à Bordeaux !#UBBR92
— Racing 92 (@racing92) April 30, 2018
Bordeaux won’t make the top six, but they will certainly rue lost opportunities. Racing look likely favourites to make the final alongside their European finale in Bilbao.
Toulouse 19-14 La Rochelle
In the weekend’s only tightly contested tie, it was Toulouse who came away with the four points. Both sides scored a try each – Piula Fa’asalele for the hosts in the first half and Victor Vito for La Rochelle in the second. Alexis Bales and Thomas traded penalties but Toulouse gained the upper hand to keep the pressure on Racing in second.
La Rochelle will need to win in their final game this weekend. But as with other teams in third through to eighth, will be hoping for support of other results. Once top of the table, La Rochelle face the prospect of not getting the all important top six finish.
After 25 rounds of rugby, it’s surprising to see so few places still up-for-grabs by the final day of the regular season. A certainty exists at the top of the table, with places likely to be filled as they are now in the standings.
Similarly to Montpellier, with Racing 92 ‘likely’ to finish in second place and host a semi-final – next weeks Clermont v Toulouse match could influence that fixture location.
— TOP 14 Rugby (@top14rugby) April 29, 2018
As for relegation, Oyonnax play their final fixture away from home and will likely remain in 13th place. True, Stade Francais could lose, and the Oyo side could ‘leap over’ them. The final round match will determine who has to play the access match.
Introduced this year, the access match will be played on the home ground of the second division club. It was introduced this season after the modification of the conditions of maintenance in Top 14 (only the 14th is relegated directly) and accession (only the winner of the final phase of Pro D2 is promoted directly). It is now a ‘clutch’ match for credibility sake.
So Top14 Round 26 still has plenty to offer. Mid-pack, and especially for Stade and Oyonnax.
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