Toulon surge as Clermont stay top
Three-time European champions Toulon extended their winning streak with a comprehensive 28-6 win over Montpellier as Clermont retained first spot in the Top 14 after La Rochelle lost to Stade Francais.
Sitting ninth overnight, Toulon's victory saw them jump into third spot to sit just behind La Rochelle, whose two late tries saw them claim a bonus point in their 31-26 defeat in Paris.
Toulon, playing at Marseille's Stade Velodrome, outscored Montpellier by three tries to nil, Georgian lock Mamuka Gorgodze, Fijian winger Josua Tuisova and Australian flanker Liam Gill all crossing and Wales full-back Leigh Halfpenny contributing 13 points with his boot.
Montpellier's sole points came from two Ben Botica penalties either side of half-time.
The loss put to an end Montpellier's run of four consecutive wins and boosts a Toulon side that has now recorded wins over three of the league's heavyweights, including Clermont and Toulouse.
In Paris, La Rochelle had been forced into a reshuffle of their team after two victories over Castres and Grenoble thanks to injuries and suspension.
Stade Francais, themselves missing emblematic skipper Sergio Parisse through suspension, led 14-9 at half-time at their Stade Jean-Bouin.
A first-half brace of tries from Antoine Burban followed by two more from Raphael Lakafia and Hugh Pyle set them on course for a convincing win.
But Brock James kept La Rochelle in the game with his boot, before two late converted tries from Artur Retiere and Jeremie Maurouard handed the final scoreline a gloss and, crucially, the visitors a defensive bonus point while denying Stade an attacking one.
"We needed the win," said Stade's Argentinian coach Gonzalo Quesada, who saw his team yellow carded on two occasions by referee Pascal Gauzere.
"We showed some great attacking play. And yes, when we led by four tries to nil, maybe we could've dreamt of finishing up with five points."
Stade full-back Hugo Bonneval added: "For an hour we played seriously and dominated.
"But in the last 20 minutes we made too many mistakes.
"At 31-12 after 66 minutes, we should have managed the game better."
La Rochelle coach Patrice Collazo said his team had left themselves too much to do.
"It's tough to pull back so many points," he said. "You can't hope to win, playing away, against a team with the quality of Stade Francais, who today posed us massive problems defensively.
"But there remained a positive attitude in the team going after the bonus point."
French champions Racing 92's away day blues continued on Saturday with a feeble 25-16 defeat at Brive that left them languishing in the bottom half.
Wingers David Strettle and Noa Nakaitaci each scored outstanding tries on Saturday to help Clermont to a 29-19 victory over Castres.
Toulouse notched up a four-try 31-3 thrashing of rock-bottom Grenoble while Bordeaux-Begles had veteran playmaker Lionel Beauxis to thank for a 77th-minute conversion of a Romain Lonca try that handed his side a nail-biting 30-28 victory over Pau.
Bayonne, sitting one place ahead of Grenoble, snatched a 22-22 draw with fellow newly-promoted side Lyon, Raphael Lagarde booting a penalty two minutes from time after France veteran Frederic Michalak had put Lyon ahead.
© 2016 AFP