2023 ASM Clermont Auvergne vs Racing 92

Top 14 Round 9 Recap: Toulon Takes Step Forward In Win Over Pau

Top 14 Round 9 Recap: Toulon Takes Step Forward In Win Over Pau

Racing 92, even in defeat, remained on top of the Top 14 world after Round 9, thanks to losses elsewhere in an atypical round in France’s top flight.

Dec 4, 2023 by Briar Napier
Top 14 Round 9 Recap: Toulon Takes Step Forward In Win Over Pau

With European rugby on the horizon and quickly approaching, clubs in the Top 14 are trying to get their tactics and training squared away, as an already demanding schedule only increases in strain soon.

Some French clubs this past weekend in France showed they are more than ready for what’s to come. Others? Not so much.

Racing 92, even in defeat, remained at the top of the table after Round 9, thanks to losses elsewhere in what was a bit of an atypical round in France’s top flight.

The entertainment and world-class action, however, never wavered.

Here’s a look at what went down in Round 9 of the Top 14 this past weekend:

Toulon Routs Pau To Take Second

The debut of midseason transfer and French international, fullback Melvyn Jaminet, may have to wait for another time, but Toulon fans certainly still had a lot to cheer for this weekend, after Les Rouge et Noir stomped out Pau by a 36-13 margin to take second place in the Top 14 standings and put the pressure on table-topping Racing 92. 

How Toulon did it against the surprises of the Top 14 season to date was by getting a fantastic performance from a surprise in its own ranks. 

Fly-half Enzo Herve — the replacement for former Wales star Dan Biggar, who has been out since last month after bizarrely injuring his back while taking a conversion kick against Perpignan — was spectacular, notching a brace of tries in under 13 minutes.

Toulon ripped to a lead right out of the gate, while the French No. 10’s boot helped his club keep piling it on. He notched four conversions and a penalty to go along with his two tries. 

Dany Priso, Gabin Villiere and Esteban Abadie additionally crossed over for Toulon, which surged out to a 24-5 halftime lead and never looked back, sealing the deal on a fourth consecutive victory for last season’s Challenge Cup champions. 

Pau still is solidly in the top 4 as of this moment — and just two points back of Racing for first place, meaning one weekend could dramatically shift the environment — but it needs to be careful that the battering it suffered at the hands of Toulon doesn’t get the team down for too long. 

Remember, Pau usually is battling in the relegation scrap most seasons and not with the country’s major rugby powers in the top half of the Top 14, so it’s completely punching above its weight class at the moment. 

Toulon’s pummeling could be a crossroad for Pau for the remainder of its season; will the club stay the course and keep up the fight, or will Round 9’s result be the catalyst for a slow decline back toward the bottom of the pecking order?

Clermont Takes Down League-Leading Racing 92

Clermont Auvergne may have missed out on Champions Cup qualification last season by finishing a disappointing 10th, but there still are plenty of elite-level players on the side that can give teams trouble. 

Racing 92 learned that the hard way this past weekend, when Montferrand erased a golden opportunity for the Paris-area club to build some distance between it and the rest of the first-place chasers in the Top 14.

Clermont Auvergne won 23-18, successfully withstanding a desperate charge in the final 10 minutes from Racing to break a two-match slide. 

Up 14-0 inside 20 minutes, Clermont held the league leaders away from their own try line until the 72nd minute, when Fijian back-rower Kitione Kamikamica scored to give Racing some life, with winger Donovan Taofifenua’s try to follow it up in the 78th minute being for naught, as Clermont picked up a dramatic victory. 

Clermont still is due to play European rugby in the Challenge Cup — where it's slated to play Edinburgh later in the week to debut its competition in the pool stage — but for a club that made three Champions Cup finals in the 2010s (plus a Challenge Cup win in 2019), it had to have felt good for Les Jaunards to be taking it to the best of the best in the Top 14 thus far.

What’s left to do from here is to utilize that momentum for good the rest of the way, and with Montferrand in eighth place and just six points back of first place in the young season, it most definitely can take the initiative and take charge as the grind of the Top 14 season continues.

Unusual Tries Abound

If you like a bit of humor and/or schadenfreude in your rugby, Round 9 of the Top 14 season definitely was for you. 

Some of the most memorable moments of the weekend in France’s top division were entertaining and/or just downright bizarre — but also to the great benefit of a couple teams. 

La Rochelle, for instance, got a much-needed 35-6 win against relegation-battling Perpignan, as the European giants try to get out of their domestic rut (four wins, five losses to start the 2023-2024 Top 14 campaign) and prepare for a gigantic Champions Cup clash with Leinster next weekend in a rematch of the past two finals in the competition. 

An otherwise cut-and-dry win, however, saw a bit of comedy injected into it in the second half, when towering lock Thomas Lavault — instead of barreling into a ruck placed on the Perpignan line — swan-dived over the pile untouched for an unusual try, cracking a smile out of boss Ronan O’Gara on the touchline in the process. 

Meanwhile at a snowy Oyonnax, it was a comedy of errors for the Oyomen, as last season’s Pro D2 champions may have missed out on a big victory at home over Bordeaux Bègles due to a terrible mistake following a set-piece play. 

A missed penalty kick by Les Girondins went to the left of the uprights near the Oyonnax try line, with two of its players in the vicinity looking to have control of it. However, an Oyonnax player failed to control the catch, while neither player in sight picked up the loose ball to continue play. 

In the meantime, Bordeaux Bègles winger Louis Bielle-Biarrey sprinted in to make a heads-up play and put pressure on the ball for a shocking converted try — the go-ahead score in the 77th minute, which helped the visitors steal a 29-23 victory from the stunned Oyomen and their fans. 

Who says the rough-and-tough sport of rugby can’t be a little lighthearted sometimes?