Racing close gap at French
TOP 14 WRAP: Racing92 scored three tries in the first half and held off a second-half fightback by La Rochelle to win 19-12 and leapfrog into second place.
The two teams started Sunday level in the table, six points behind leaders Montpellier, with free-scoring La Rochelle occupying second place. The victory lifted the Parisians into second on 54 points. Montpellier have 56 and La Rochelle remain on 50.
"We had a good day at the office," said Racing full-back Louis Dupichot. "We have taken four points. They have zero."
Racing dominated the first half at their U Arena and took the lead when flanker Yannick Nyanga bulled over after a scrum in the 18th minute. Dan Carter converted.
Ten minutes later, wing Jan Imhoff skipped over in the left corner after La Rochelle gave up in the ball in their own 22.
Centre Patrick Lambie went over in the same corner four minutes before the break. Carter booted the extra points, but the All Black fly half was only successful with two of his five kicks. He missed a penalty in each half.
The home team led 19-0 at half time but La Rochelle fought back.
Awarded a penalty close to the line early in the second half, the visitors opted for a scrum and No.8 Afa Amosa bludgeoned across the line. La Rochelle wasted the conversion.
Although Racing barely threatened in attack in the second half, they generally held their opponents at a safe distance. La Rochelle's second try came from long range.
Brock James's prodded kick through the home defence and it bounced beautifully for the charging Paul Jordaan who swerved through to score.
La Rochelle could muster no further threat until the dying seconds when Racing, still running the ball deep in the opposing half after time expired, gave away a penalty.
James kicked for a line-out and then launched a final frantic assault with a kick to the corner. Dupichot raced to the bouncing ball behind his line and ended the match by hacking into touch.
"We didn't manage the last part of the game well," said Dupichot. "Happily, in the end, it all came out well."
Flying wing Teddy Thomas, serving a one-match suspension from the France team, had an industrious game for Racing but could not add to his recent burst of tries.
Thomas has been stripped of his ethics bonus for this month by Racing after being involved in a late-night incident in Edinburgh last weekend following France's Six Nations defeat to Scotland.
Thomas has been in fine form, scoring all three of France's tries in their two Six Nations matches this season.
Earlier on Sunday, Castres kept in the play-off picture with a bruising 7-6 victory over Bordeaux-Begles.
Defeat hit Bordeaux's own top six hopes. They now sit 10 points back from the play-offs.
In an uninspiring arm-wrestle, Castres scored the only try as fullback Julien Dumora won a foot-race to touch down a clever kick from Benjamin Urdapilleta on 27 minutes.
Flyhalf Urdapilleta converted as Castres defended doggedly throughout to prevent Bordeaux crossing their own line.
On Saturday, former England international Chris Ashton grabbed a hat-trick of tries to help Toulon move up to fourth with a 43-5 thrashing of Stade Francais.
Leaders Montpellier picked up a try-bonus as Fiji wing Nemani Nadolo scored a brace in a 43-20 victory at Oyonnax.
But champions Clermont slipped to 15 points off the play-offs in 10th as their winless run away from home continued with a chastening 36-10 reverse at Lyon, whose bonus point took them above Castres.