La Rochelle (France) (AFP)
La Rochelle beat Montpellier 22-9 on Sunday to maintain their lead in the Top 14 despite an hour of play with 14 men.
Racing 92 gained some ground later in the afternoon with a 45-10 victory over Agen’s lower side to collect a bonus point and climb to second place.
In La Rochelle, Ihaia West kicked the home side in the fifth minute, but Will Skelton conceded a penalty two minutes later to allow Montpellier’s Anthony Bouthier to level up.
The 2.03-meter (six-foot, eight-inch) Australian’s afternoon worsened in the 19th minute when he attacked Montpellier’s imposing lock, 2.02-meter Paul Willemse. Skelton’s shoulder made contact with South Africa’s head resulting in a red card.
Bouthier added an additional penalty by kicking the penalty kick to give Montpellier the lead.
West responded with a penalty three minutes later and kicked off another half-time kick to put La Rochelle ahead at the break.
In a match played in the rain and gusty wind, dominated by packs and marred by management errors and lost line-ups, the only try came when Montpellier made a mess by fielding the kick-off of the second half-time under his own posts. The rebound helped La Rochelle number 8 Kevin Gourdon who jumped up to score.
West converted and added two more penalties while Montpellier, even with a male advantage, could only handle a penalty from Alex Lozowski in response.
“We had to work hard to fill the void left by Will Skelton’s red card,” said La Rochelle flanker Mathieu Tanguy.
“We had more desire than them. ”
Montpellier captain Arthur Vincent admitted his side had failed to compete, calling it a “non-match”.
“In a match like this, rugby is about values,” he said.
The victory in the opening match of the round kept La Rochelle at the top of the table after what the Top 14 call their “Boxing Day” round of matches. Montpellier remains mired in 12th.
Racing responded by participating in six tests in the sheltered environment of their La Defense Arena to ward off a point from La Rochelle’s advantage.
Victor Moreaux gave visiting Agen a quick lead with a try in the 11th minute. Louis Dupichot, Teddy Baubigny and Kurtley Beale answered before half-time. Teddy Thomas, Jordan Joseph and Ibrahim Diallo landed in the final 19 minutes to secure an emphatic victory.
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