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Racing close gap at French Top 14 summit

© AFP | Racing 92's winger Teddy Thomas was able to play against La Rochelle because he is suspended from the France team


Racing92 scored three tries in the first half and held off a second-half fightback by La Rochelle to win 19-12 and leapfrog into second in the French Top 14.

The two teams started Sunday level in the table, six points behind leaders Montpellier, with free-scoring La Rochelle occupying second place. The victory lifted the Parisians into second on 54 points. Montpellier have 56 and La Rochelle remain on 50.

"We had a good day at the office," said Racing full-back Louis Dupichot. "We have taken four points. They have zero."

Racing dominated the first half at their U Arena and took the lead when flanker Yannick Nyanga bulled over after a scrum in the 18th minute. Dan Carter converted.

Ten minutes later, winger Jan Imhoff skipped over in the left corner after La Rochelle gave up in the ball in their own 22.

Centre Patrick Lambie went over in the same corner four minutes before the break. Carter booted the extra points, but the All Black fly half was only succesful with two of his five kicks. He missed a penalty in each half.

The home team led 19-0 at half time but La Rochelle fought back.

"It took us a little while to get going," said Xavier Garbajosa, the La Rochelle backs coach.

He praised Racing but blamed "the holidays," La Rochelle had not played in the Top 14 since January 27 due to the Six Nations, and the artificial pitch at Racing's new home, which he called "a surface different to the one on which we play every weekend."

Awarded a penalty close to the line early in the second half, the visitors opted for a scrum and No.8 Afa Amosa bludgeoned across the line. La Rochelle wasted the conversion.

Although Racing barely threatened in attack in the second half, they generally held their opponents at a safe distance. La Rochelle's second try came from long range.

Brock James's prodded kick through the home defence and it bounced beautifully for the charging Paul Jordaan who swerved through to score.

Flying wing Teddy Thomas, serving a one-match suspension from the France team, had an industrious game for Racing but could not add to his recent burst of tries.

Thomas has been stripped of his ethics bonus for this month by Racing after being involved in a late-night incident in Edinburgh last weekend following France's Six Nations defeat to Scotland.

Thomas has been in fine form, scoring all three of France's tries in their two Six Nations matches this season.

"Without trying to be funny, we are very happy with Teddy's comportent on the field," said Laurent Labit, Racing's backs coach. "We know that what he did off the pitch wasn't all that bad...but you can't come back at 4 am after losing."

- Arm-wrestle -

Earlier on Sunday, Castres kept in the play-off picture with a bruising 7-6 victory over Bordeaux-Begles.

Defeat hit Bordeaux's own top six hopes. They now sit 10 points back from the play-offs.

In an uninspiring arm-wrestle, Castres scored the only try as full-back Julien Dumora won a foot-race to touch down a clever kick from Benjamin Urdapilleta on 27 minutes.

Fly-half Urdapilleta converted as Castres defended doggedly throughout to prevent Bordeaux crossing their own line.

On Saturday, former England international Chris Ashton grabbed a hat-trick of tries to help Toulon move up to fourth with a 43-5 thrashing of Stade Francais.

Leaders Montpellier picked up a try-bonus as Fiji wing Nemani Nadolo scored a brace in a 43-20 victory at Oyonnax.

But champions Clermont slipped to 15 points off the play-offs in 10th as their winless run away from home continued with a chastening 36-10 reverse at Lyon, whose bonus point took them above Castres.

© 2018 AFP