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French Top 10: Rennes strike again

The final full week of the Top 10 before the Six Nations again demonstrated why the French league is arguably the most competitive in the world. Champions and league leaders Lons travelled north to play on the synthetic pitch at Stade Alain Crubillé of seventh-placed Rennes - and the game went down to the final kick.

In September Lons had won by 41-8, but this time Rennes dominated the game. With an eye on the Six Nations, it was the two new Rennes additions to the French squad who made the difference. Wing Jade Le Pesq opened the scoring in 26th minute, and Lenaig Corson scored the third try at the end - Anne-Sophie Demoulin scored the other. But Lons are not champions without a reason, and even on a difficult day they held on, matching Rennes’ scoring – and in the dying seconds nearly stole the game with a penalty. But Casenave’s kick slipped wide – and with it went the top position in the league. For Rennes it was their second win over a team challenging for the play-offs in two weeks... and on this form they could still be bidding for a place themselves in May.

Rivals Montpellier had no similar problems disposing of Bordeaux. A nine try to one win - after a similar demolition of Sassenage two weeks ago – has transformed the race for the top.

However, the Top 10 is far from being simply a two-horse race this year. Lille completed a routine 26-0 win over Bordeaux in their postponed fixture last week, taking them into third. This week brought the northerners what should have been a routine visit to St Orens. However, the pitch in Haute-Garonne proved to be a “muddy trench”, according to press reports, neutralising Lille’s fast backs and making even kicking difficult. So although Lille threatened the St Orens line on several occasions, the only score proved to be Pertus’s penalty in the 36th minute as Lille won a narrow 3-0 victory which keeps them in third… but with a game in hand that, if won, could yet see them go top.

Elsewhere Perpignan showed that their title bid is far from over. In another game played in a quagmire, Yahe and Le Duff combined to set up six tries. They did not have it all their own way – despite being bottom of the league Sassenage scored three tries themselves - but the Catalans still finished the day with a vital five championship points.

Finally Perpignan’s rivals for the fourth spot – Cannes – were forced to postpone their game against Bobogny because the local municipality - who own Stade Helitas - closed the ground the day before the match.

Positions: 1, Montpellier (11 games, 43 pts); 2, Lons (11 games, 42 pts); 3, Lille (10 games, 39 pts); 4, Perpignan (11 games, 36 pts); 5, Caen (10 games, 28 pts); 6, Rennes (10 games, 20 pts); 7, St Orens (11 games, 17 pts); 8, Bobigny (10 games, 15 pts); 9, Bordeaux (10 games, 5 pts); 10, Sassenage (10 games, 1 pt).