We are through 10 rounds of the Top 14 season and Montpellier have opened up a four-point gap at the top of the table.
Despite overtaking Lyon at the summit, however, none of Montpellier’s players caught the eye of former Toulon centre Tom May. So, who did impress during rounds nine and 10 in France?
Newly arrived South African Lambie has had a great couple of weeks for Racing 92. In round nine, he started on the bench but was introduced with 20 minutes to play against Pau, and his experience and nerve was called upon in the 79th minute when he kicked the penalty which confirmed Racing’s win. It were his contributions with ball in hand that are eye catching though.
At the Stade Mayol this weekend, he orchestrated a smash and grab win against Toulon. Given a start at 10, he took his opportunity to impress again. A perfect chip deep in the Toulon 22 gave Brice Dulin the first score before he put the same player into a great hole which allowed Racing to go the length of the pitch. A couple more phases saw a brilliant cut out pass to Yannick Nyanga who dived over to score. Combine that with eight successful kicks at goal and it’s been a great couple of rounds for Lambie.
Maybe Ashton should have moved to the Top 14 sooner. There is no doubt that he is a massive hit, and the last two rounds have only intensified his importance to the Rouge et Noir. In round nine, Toulon headed west to Agen. Ultimately they lost the game but Ashton scored three tries. He shifted to fullback for the last two fixtures and that meant he could run off others more. When those others take the shape of Semi Radradra and Malakai Fekitoa, life seems pretty simple for him.
He scored this weekend against Racing, running on the outside of Radradra after doing exactly the same in Agen — two offloads from the immense Fijian allowing the Englishman to score. His support lines have been excellent for years and if he runs up and down the middle channels of the field, it seems the ball will find its way to him somehow. It has been a great season for Ashton so far, and 10 tries before the end of November is a great return.
Pietersen has had a tough time since arriving from the Premiership. He hasn’t played anywhere near as much as he would have liked and he’s had to spend far too much time for his own liking on the bench — a fact that shows the immense talent that Toulon offer in those outside channels. He was an unused sub in Agen, but started the most recent Top 14 game this weekend against Racing — and he certainly made his point.
Reacting to a very flat and risky pass from Dulin, he intercepted the ball and made his way to the try line to help Toulon to an early lead. He scored a second courtesy of a fantastic kick through from Ma’a Nonu after a Racing turnover. He finished brilliantly with a one handed touch down just as the ball threatened to go dead. Toulon head away to Castres this weekend and it will be interesting to see if Pietersen keeps his place.
It seems impossible to stop Raka at the moment. The Clermont winger sat out the loss to Montpellier at the Altrad Stadium and would he have been on the field, you wonder if that might have made the difference. He has the same effect on his side as Nemani Nadolo does for his. Back in the side for Round 10, Raka has been at it again. ASM took on Lyon, the league leaders, and came up trumps — the contributions of Raka were sensational.
A massive line break up the centre of the field from the winger, a drop of the shoulder [sitting down an on-rushing defender] and a quick pass helped set up a score for David Strettle in the corner. Raka himself dived over when he had no right to score. Five metres out as the ball scooted out of the back of the scrum, he showed footwork and pace to get on the outside of Jonathan Pelissie before dragging both the scrum-half and winger Toby Arnold over the line with him. His second of the game came after a bounce pass caught out the Lyon defenders. A sprint up the touchline and Raka now has eight tries for the season. With major injuries in their side, Clermont will hope that he keeps their momentum going over the coming months.
It might have been a poor couple of weeks for Toulon, who lost in both rounds nine and 10, but Fekitoa was brilliant in both games. He has shone since his arrival from New Zealand, and there is no doubt that Mourad Boudjellal has acquired the services of a player that is in no way just looking to see out the end of his career on the Cote d’Azur.
His desire during the last two games has been clear and his performance against Agen was sensational. Line breaks, incredible offloads as well as pace and great footwork make up the Kiwi’s game and there is no sign of that stopping. It was his outside break, cutting inside and making an off-balance offload, which gave Toulon a fantastic score against Agen. Last weekend he left Remi Tales, Joe Rokocoko, Nyanga and Albert Vulivuli clutching at thin air to score a superb try. He adds another threat to Toulon who, once back on track, should find themselves heading the right way up the table.