By John Fallon
Simon Zebo scored for the second week running and Donnacha Ryan got his first try of the season as Racing 92 bounced back from their heavy defeat to Clermont Auvergne to put Agen to the sword in the third round of the Top14.
Ryan scored after just four minutes but even by then that was Racing’s second try of the game as they built up a 49-7 interval lead despite having a man in the bin.
They took their foot off the pedal in the second half against one of the relegation favourites but Zebo scored for the second week in a row when he crossed for the second last of their nine tries.
Indeed, they had nine different scorers as they recovered at the U Arena from the 40-17 loss they suffered at home to Clermont the previous week.
Clermont continue to set the pace in France, chalking up their third win of the campaign when they overcame Paul O’Connell and Mike Prendergast’s Stade Francais 42-20 at Stade Marcel Michelin.
Gael Fickou’s two tries weren’t enough to save Stade Francais from their first defeat of the campaign.
Paddy Jackson kicked 11 points for Perpignan but they went down 16-22 to Lyon, their second home defeat of the campaign and it seems inevitable their first season back in the top flight is going be a long battle against relegation.
Meanwhile, former Munster player Paddy Butler was at No.8 as Pau chalked up their second win in three games with a 24-21 away triumph at promoted Grenoble.
Toulouse, who host holders Leinster in the second round of the Heineken Champions Cup next month, continued their good start to the Top 14 with their second win, a 33-26 win over La Rochelle.
In the Rugby Championship, New Zealand defeated Argentina 46-24 at Trafalgar Park in Nelson on Saturday, though head coach Steve Hansen admitted the performance could have been better from his rearranged side.
Nehe Milner-Skudder, TJ Perenara (2), Kieran Read, Shannon Frizell and Jack Goodhue all crossed as the All Blacks scored six tries and bagged a third bonus point win of the competition to move closer to defending their title.
Argentina were resilient, though, and scored three tries of their own through Ramiro Moyano, Nicolas Sanchez and Emiliano Boffelli to ensure the Pumas provided a stern test for the world champions.
Sanchez’s try saw him pass Felipe Contepomi’s 651 points for Argentina in Test matches.
Hansen made eight changes to pick a relatively inexperienced side, with half-back Perenara plus flankers Ardie Savea and Frizell enhancing their reputations.
“We expect to play well and we expect to win well, and even when we make changes, like we have, those expectations don’t change,” Hansen said.
“We got the opportunity to blood some young men and they got put under pressure by a good Argentinian side. I thought they played particularly well at times and put us under pressure so we had to show a lot of mental fortitude.”
The All Blacks’ defensive work “wasn’t as good as it could have been”, Hansen admitted. “But every time they scored we came back and that showed a lot of strength of character.”
Los Pumas coach Mario Ledesma admitted his side still lacked the self-belief to beat New Zealand. “I thought that for periods of time we were competing pretty well against the best team in the world and then we lose by 20 points.”
In this weekend’s other game, Australia withstood a late onslaught from South Africa to win 23-18 at the Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane.
The Wallabies’ defence held firm, after both sides had scored two tries in the first half, to snap a four-game losing streak, while the Springboks slipped to a second successive Championship defeat.
Michael Hooper scored the game’s first try, converted by Matt Toomua, but South Africa hit back through Elton Jantjies’ penalty before tries from Mbongeni Mbonambi and Makazole Mapimpi, the latter’s not converted, saw the visitors stretch their lead to 15-7.
The Wallabies hit back when Toomua converted his own try after sliding in under the posts and Jantjies and Reece Hodge swapped penalties to leave South Africa 18-17 in front at the interval.
Wallabies’ fly-half Toomua was successful with two second-half penalties as both defences tightened up and the hosts held on in a tense finale, which saw the Springboks’ last-gasp try ruled out after video replays showed a knock-on in the build-up.