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Debut for Sweetnam as La Rochelle beat Lyon but miss out on chance to go top

Ronan O’Gara’s side won 38-23 but didn’t collect the bonus point needed to go above Toulouse.

File photo of Darren Sweetnam.
File photo of Darren Sweetnam.
Image: SIPA USA/PA Images

SOUTH AFRICA WINGER Dillyn Leyds scored a try and set up another but La Rochelle missed out on the chance to move to the summit of the French Top 14 despite Saturday’s 38-23 home win over Lyon, a game in which Darren Sweetnam made his debut as a 60th-minute replacement.

Leyds’ crucial contributions came early in both halves but were insufficient to claim a bonus point to go above Toulouse, with five league matches to play.

The fixture on the Atlantic Coast was one of just three league games to avoid postponement due to Covid-19 fears.

Coach Jono Gibbes, who has reportedly agreed to join Clermont next season, made seven changes from last Saturday’s European Champions Cup success over Sale Sharks.

La Rochelle started at a canter as Leyds crossed for his eighth try of the season after a delicate Brice Dulin chip before Ihaia West added the conversion.

The hosts led 20-6 at the break after West crashed over with the clock in the red.

The outside-half failed to return to the field after the interval after hurting his shoulder in scoring, 15 days away from hosting Leinster in the Champions Cup semi final.

Leyds became the provider five minutes into the second half as his one-handed slap-pass set up centre Geoffrey Doumayrou.

On the hour mark, Sweetnam came on for his La Rochelle debut after signing as injury cover two weeks ago.

Fiji winger Josua Tuisova scored his 50th and 51st league tries for the away side to deny La Rochelle the bonus point, which would have moved them top.

It is unlikely O’Gara’s side will have a game next weekend ahead of facing Leinster, joint-record four-time European champions.

Brive, who La Rochelle are scheduled to play on Saturday, recorded numerous Covid-19 cases last week.

Earlier, Toulouse full-back Matthis Lebel might have scored a contender for try of the season, but it was not enough as Castres held their nerve to claim a 26-24 derby scalp.

France U20s back Lebel and Zack Holmes were the only two in Toulouse’s starting lineup to have played the leaders’ Champions Cup quarter-final victory last weekend at Clermont.

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Of the matchday squad involved in the win in the Auvergne, 13 didn’t even make the trip for the derby in southwest France, with the likes of South Africa’s Rugby World Cup winner Cheslin Kolbe rested.

Despite their game being called off, winless Agen were relegated from the Top 14 on Friday after second-bottom Pau defeated fellow strugglers Bayonne 43-33.

With just six games left of the regular season eight-time champions Agen have lost all 20 league games this season, cannot make up the gap.

© – AFP, 2021

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