No bonus point, but La Rochelle stays tops
TOP 14: La Rochelle beat Montpellier 22-9 on Sunday to maintain their Top 14 lead despite playing an hour with 14 men, but the two teams immediately below both picked up bonus points to gain ground.
Racing 92 scored six tries as they beat bottom side Agen 45-10. In the evening, Toulouse collected their bonus when they scored their fifth try in added time to beat Bordeaux Begles, 45-23.
Toulouse closed to a point of La Rochelle with Racing, who have played one fewer game, a point further back.
In the late game, winger Gabin Villiere scored a hat-trick of tries as Toulon beat Clermont 27-9 to remain in fourth.
In La Rochelle, Ihaia West kicked the home team into a fifth minute lead but Will Skelton conceded a penalty two minutes later to allow Montpellier’s Anthony Bouthier to level.
The 2.03 metre (six foot, eight inch) Australian’s afternoon got worse in the 19th minute when he tackled Montpellier’s own hulking lock, the 2.02 metre Paul Willemse. Skelton’s shoulder made contact with the South African’s head, resulting in a red card.
Bouthier added further punishment by kicking the penalty to give Montpellier the lead.
West replied with a penalty three minutes later and kicked another on half time to give La Rochelle the lead at the break.
In a match played in rain and gusty wind, dominated by the packs and marred by handling errors and lost lineouts, the only try came when Montpellier made a mess of fielding the second-half kick-off under their own posts. The bounce helped La Rochelle number 8 Kevin Gourdon who pounced to score.
West converted and added two more penalties while Montpellier, even with a man advantage, could only manage a penalty by Alex Lozowski in reply.
“We had to work hard to fill the gap left by Will Skelton’s red card,” said La Rochelle flanker Mathieu Tanguy.
“We had more desire than they did.”
The victory, in the opening match of the round, ensured La Rochelle would remain the top of the table after what the Top 14 calls its ‘Boxing Day’ round of games. Montpellier remain mired in 12th.
Racing responded by crossing six times in the sheltered environment of their indoor La Defense Arena.
Victor Moreaux gave visiting Agen an early lead with an 11th minute try. Louis Dupichot, Teddy Baubigny and Kurtley Beale replied before half time. Teddy Thomas, Jordan Joseph and Ibrahim Diallo touched down in the last 19 minutes to ensure an emphatic victory.
Racing coach Laurent Travers made 12 changes to his team and said that and the Christmas break explained the slow start.
“These players need playing time,” he said. “They wanted to play, but nothing can replace competition. It took about 20 minutes for them to get their second wind.”
The meeting between hosts Toulouse, the Top 14 champions in 2019, and Bordeaux-Begles, the team that led the standings when last season, was halted by the coronavirus pandemic, was close until the 50th minute.
Yann Huguet, Selevasio Tolofua scored first half tries for Toulouse while Yoram Falatea and Thierry Paiva replied for the visitors.
With Toulouse just three points ahead, France scrum half Antoine Dupont sidestepped through the visiting defence to score.
Matthis Lebel added another try and veteran back Maxime Medard touched down after time had expired to secure bonus point.
“We got a scare,” Dupont said. “Five points is very good from an accounting point of view, but there is a lot of room for improvement.”
Bordeaux Begles are eighth.