Ex-All Black Vito 'stands up' on return but La Rochelle fail to go top

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La Rochelle centre Jeremy Sinzelle praised double Rugby World Cup winner Victor Vito who scored on his injury return in Sunday's 26-22 loss at Racing 92 in the French Top 14.

Former New Zealand back-rower Vito, 33, had been out since October 9 with a bicep issue and he marked his return with a first half try but his side missed out on taking top spot.

Both sides were without their Six Nations contingents as Jonno Gibbes started Vito to replace France's Gregory Alldritt, who played 57 minutes in Saturday's 50-10 win at Italy.

"It's true he scored a winger's try. He did us a lot of good. We lost Greg to the Test set-up and Victor stood up today," Sinzelle said.

"It's good for us, I hope he serves us well for the rest of the season," he added.

The hosts were also without injured trio Virimi Vakatawa, Kurtley Beale and Camille Chat and started 18-year-old Nolann Le Garrec at scrum-half.

Laurent Travers' home side led 10-0 after five minutes as Antoine Gibert kicked a penalty and converted Teddy Baubigny's early try before Vito celebrated his return with a first try in 13 months.

Vito crossed in the corner unopposed after a delicate off-load from Fiji centre Levani Botia but Travers' men led 16-5 at the break after Gibert added two more penalties.

Racing led 23-12 going into the final quarter after away flanker Paul Boudehent responded to Vito's fellow former All Black Dominic Bird's effort.

Gibbes' outfit trailed by a point with 15 minutes to go as Vito's fellow World Cup winner in 2015 Tawer Kerr Barlow scurried over from short-range.

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The experienced loose forward then set-up Spain winger Martin Alonso Munez but ex-New Zealand Maori fly-half Ihaia West missed the two conversions to set up a tense finish.

Gibert slotted a fourth penalty to make it 26-22 as the side from the Atlantic coast put on the pressure but failed to make their dominance count.

Later, Tonga's Ma'ama Vaipulu scored just before the break and was sent off 13 minutes later as Castres overcame Bayonne 31-19 at Stade Pierre Fabre to go 12 points clear of the relegation spots.

On Saturday, South Africa's Rugby World Cup winner Cobus Reinach was on the scoresheet for the first time since mid-October as struggling Montpellier beat Stade Francais 31-6 to move five points clear the Basques in the relegation play-off place.

Reinach's billionaire-backed side claimed their first victory in nine games since overcoming Clermont in early December.

Elsewhere, former New Zealand Under-20 back-rower Jordan Taufua made his Lyon debut in Friday's 26-18 defeat at Stade Marcel-Michelin to start the weekend of rearranged games affected by Covid-19 cases among squads.