La Rochelle wrest Top 14 leadership from Montpellier
La Rochelle won their top-of-the-table duel with Montpellier 26-14 at home on Saturday to depose the visitors at the head of the French Top 14.
The hosts, aggressive in defence and stronger in the scrums, were not going to pass up a chance to unseat Montpellier who again struggled on the road, though not as badly as in their humiliating 26-0 loss at Racing 92 the week before
La Rochelle, who have won all their home games this season, dominated but was unusually strangely uncertain and wasted several scoring chances in the second half when they could have built on a 16-6 lead.
Instead, Montpellier scored a try to close to within five points with 10 minutes left.
La Rochelle responded by bending their backs and pushed towards victory through the scrums they took each time they were awarded a penalty in the closing stages.
The home team put the seal on victory after winning a scrum in the 79th minute. Brock James side stepped three times as he went through to score the try which stripped Montpellier of a defensive bonus point.
"There are lots of things to look at and to work on," said La Rochelle head coach Patrice Collazo.
"Montpellier wanted to improve after their display at Racing, they succeeded in stopping us playing and pushing us out of our game plan."
In the first half, Montpellier paid for their errors and indiscipline.
Home fullback Vincent Rattez pounced on a dropped Montpellier ball after 16 minutes to launch a 70-metre counter attack with a kick downfield. Paul Jordaan gave chase and kicked on again before touching down.
Montpellier also conceded four penalties in range of their goal posts and Alexi Bales converted all of them
"We are disappointed to leave La Rochelle without a point" said Fulgence Ouedraogo, the Montpellier captain. "We made a huge effort but weren't precise enough and were too indisciplined."
Later Saturday, Toulouse have home advantage as they take on Castres who are one place and three points behind them. Third-place Lyon travel to the wounded giants, Toulon.
On Sunday, Clermont host Agen with Racing making the short trip through the western Paris to visit near neighbours Stade Francais in the final game of the weekend.
© 2017 AFP