Champions Cup finalists La Rochelle picked up a crucial bonus-point 32-13 win over Stade Francais Saturday to ensure the domestic half of their season’s trophy hunt remains on track - but an injury to Victor Vito threatened to cast a shadow over the much-needed result.
The double World Cup-winner limped off early in the second half, and sat in the dugout with an ice pack on his ankle. Head coach Ronan O’Gara and his staff will hope the injury is not too serious.
O’Gara had said this week that this was a must-win match for the hosts’ hopes of making the Top 14 play-offs. But, with one eye firmly on Marseille, head coach O’Gara had made 13 changes to his side - only Vito and Jonathan Danty kept their places in the starting XV.
Will Skelton, meanwhile, made a surprise appearance on the bench as a late replacement for Eneriko Buliruarua, coming on for the final minutes. He may yet be in contention for Saturday against Leinster.
A breakout try, begun when Pierre Boudehent picked up a loose ball deep in his own 22 and finished 80m later by fullback Pierre Popelin, kickstarted La Rochelle’s afternoon, while a spectacular diving, rolling score from Toulouse-bound Arthur Retiere rounded off a solid, well-controlled first half. Second-half scores from Romain Sazy and - two minutes from time - Boudehant ensured the Rochelais’ climbed to fifth.
Earlier, Bordeaux became the first team to book passage to the Top 14 play-offs. Matthieu Jalibert scored two tries in six minutes to delight the 26,562 crowd at Stade Chaban Delmas - by all accounts a future historic monument - as the hosts scored five tries in 35 second-half minutes to pick up a try-scoring bonus in an emphatic 42-10 win over a Lyon side seemingly distracted by their impending appearance in a first-ever Challenge Cup final.
But their European opponents on Friday, Toulon, had no such problems, picking up a try-scoring bonus as they beat Pau 37-20 at Stade Mayol, Louis Carbonel scoring a farewell try for the faithful before his summer switch to Montpellier. The result meant that Toulon - bottom of the table in early February, were provisionally in the play-off places.
Montpellier joined Bordeaux in the confirmed play-off slots, with a hard-fought 22-13 win over Racing 92 at the GGL Stadium, and Clermont kept their outside hopes of the finishing in the top six with a bonus point 26-8 win at already relegated Biarritz.
Toulouse journeymanned their way to a 26-8 win over 12th-placed Brive at a sold-out Stade Amedee-Domenech despite Charlie Faumina's red card for a dangerous clear-out in the 17th minute.
The result means 13th-placed Perpignan know a win at Castres on Sunday evening will see them overtake Brive, and escape the relegation play-off spot.