La Rochelle smash Agen, retake Top 14 lead

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Paris (AFP)

La Rochelle bounced back from successive defeats as they retook first place in France by crushing struggling Agen 47-6 in the Top 14 on Saturday.

La Rochelle, who had lost their two previous matches at Bordeaux-Begles and against Wasps in the European Champions Cup, scored seven tries and picked up a bonus point to climb to 44 points from 14 games.

That leaves them two ahead of Montpellier, who have a chance to go back to the summit when they play rock-bottom Oyonnax later on Saturday.

Agen made 15 changes from the team that had won against Brive.

"Agen brought in a lot of young players," La Rochelle centre Pierre Aguillon said. "We won't get too excited."

Meanwhile, Bordeaux-Begles bid 'adieu' to coach Jacques Brunel, who is taking over the French national team, with a 22-12 loss at Stade Francais in Paris where Waisea Nayacalevu secured a bonus point for the home team with a 77th-minute try.

In La Rochelle, Agen kicked both their penalties in the first 13 minutes, but by then Jeremy Sinzelle had scored the home team's first try.

La Rochelle pounded away and forced holes in a disorganised Agen defence. Hooker Pierre Bourgarit went over after 24 minutes and Alexis Bales found a gap and raced 40 metres for the bonus-point try before half-time.

Gregory Lamboley, Aguillon, Afa Amosa and Pierre Boudehent added further touchdowns in the second half. Ryan Lamb converted six of the seven tries.

"We played the best team in the Top 14 at the moment," said Mauricio Reggiardo, the Agen manager. "We prepared for this match in just two days with players who had not played together much."

Reggiardo said he was not surprised by how well La Rochelle had played. "They can keep up this level of commitment for 80 minutes and we can't. In the second half they grew stronger and we could not live with them."

Defensively, La Rochelle were able to keep an enthusiastic but limited Agen team from scoring a try of their own.

"That allows us to have confidence in our defence for the matches to come," said Aguillon. "That's important and shows the character of this team. They could have scored at the end but, despite everything, we did not let them."

"When you are back in your own stadium in front of your family, your friends, there's going to be a good atmosphere and that makes a difference after two defeats," Aguillon said.