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Gaps opening up in Top 16

Round five of the new French Top 16 was characterised by big wins for last year’s Top 8 teams.

Lille's new team put in their best performance of the season at Tarbes. Photo: :La Voix du Nord/ Emmanuel Roussel

Anyone with concerns that the expansion of the Top 8 into a Top 16 might result in some one-sided uncompetitive fixtures perhaps had their worst fears realised last weekend. All of the games matched teams from last season’s Top 8 playing against newly promoted sides – five of them at home – with four of the seven games played being won by margins of over 50 points.

The prize for the biggest win came in Pool A where Blagnac scored 13 tries – 11 converted – in a 90-0 slaughter of Rouen, who have now lost all five of their games, shipping 238 points along the way.

Villelonguet, also in Pool A also lost their fifth game, also shipping 13 tries to Rennes, though they did manage to get one score themselves, and Rennes were not quite on target with the boot. Even so, 75-7 was still a somewhat one-sided outcome.

Leaders and champions Montpellier also put Lons to the sword, though their nine-try 54-3 was mild by comparison.

The only newly promoted team that is holding its own in this pool is – unsurprisingly, given the squad it has acquired – Stade Francais, who achieved a 5-5 draw with early pool leaders Romagnat.

After this, Pool A sees Montpellier and Blagnac on 100% records, ten points clear of Stade Francais, with three wins and a draw, followed by Romagnat, Rennes and Lons with two wins each.

Pool B saw just one big win – Bayonne dismissing Caen 69-0 – pushing them into second place overall.

Other games were a little closer. The new-look Lille team put in their best performance this season with a bonus-point win against Tarbes, 29-13, After an even first half, where Lille lead just 12-8 – and that only due to a penalty try right on halftime – the northerners took control of the game with three tries in ten minutes just after the break, Tarbes only getting back on the board in the final few minutes when Lille were reduced to 14 players.

Finally Bobigny picked up the day’s only away with a 24-14 win in Bordeaux, where the home team had most of the possession in the first half, but still went into the break two tries down. Only in the final quarter did Bordeaux finally turn that possession into points thanks to wing Amandine Pierru.

With Grenoble again having the week off due to Youth Olympic commitments, Toulouse – despite having no match – remain on top with four wins from four. Six teams are separated by just 10 points, only Caen and Tarbes being left adrift at the bottom.