Not because of prolonged festivities, but because of Lyonnais who, crowned with their success in the Challenge Cup against Toulon, were playing their survival during the last game of their emblematic manager Pierre Mignoni at home. They didn’t lack mental freshness either and the fight they offered Ronan O’Gara’s players quickly confirmed that staying in the top 6 wouldn’t be easy.
Tuisova was everywhere
What better illustration than the performance of an enraged Josua Tuisova? Constant poison on the wing, he is even more so in the center, after the exit of Pierre-Louis Barassi. Instead of constantly seeking to play his power, he serves his partners with relish, taking advantage of the defenders throwing themselves at him. The Maritimes had balls but, rather than building their victory with very easy penalties, they tried to score tries to kill their opponents’ quest for bonuses.
Unlike in the Champions Cup final, they failed to keep possession, especially before the break, which Baptiste Couilloud took advantage of to bring the score to 19-5, 3 tries to 1, one unit from qualifying . And this time, we say to ourselves that daring was not necessarily the best plan knowing that a simple defensive bonus was enough to extend the season by at least a week.
Hard to believe these two teams spent the start of the week celebrating their European titles
Before that, therefore, the Lyonnais had been furious, especially on a first sequence of almost 3 minutes, after a high ball missed by Brice Dulin. The ball went wide very quickly, until Dylan Cretin’s try (7-0, 5e). Then, the Yellow and Blacks used the small balls well over the top, and Facundo Bosch, taking advantage of the work of Levani Botia, Romain Sazy and Arthur Retière, went behind the line (7-5, 13e).
Nevertheless, the pressure was put on by locals who owed only a few small faults the fact of not taking the score more widely. On the restart, Romain Sazy urged his players to calm down. They had more ideas: on a new penalty at 5 meters, they played it by hand, and Joel Sclavi crossed the line. 3 tries at 2, 19 at 12 (46e), the caravel club could breathe a little.
Dany Priso, Pierre Bourgarit, Thomas Lavault, Uini Atonio and Will Skelton then made their entrance, the latter two sounding the charge to a maul bringing the 8e Jules Favre try of the season (19-17, 50e), which allowed his team to be in the nails of the defensive bonus. The dynamic had changed sides, and Uini Atonio concluded a very strong moment (19-24, 56e).
The match became totally crazy, the LOU went back in front on a huge carried ball (26-24, 70e). It’s hard to believe that these two teams had spent the beginning of the week celebrating their European titles, if not in view of the freshness deployed. Moreover, O’Gara’s men reproduced the pounding seen against Leinster and it was Botia’s turn to cross the line (26-29, 73rd).
Despite a suffocating end to the game, punctuated by two tries refused in Lyon, La Rochelle ensured a success which would allow it to go to its Toulouse beast in the play-off. Lyon, for its part, will not see the final phase.