Clermont down Toulouse to reclaim top spot
TOP 14 SUNDAY WRAP: Clermont returned to the top of the French League with a tight 29-25 victory over Toulouse in the Top 14 on Sunday.
They had briefly been replaced at the league summit on Saturday when La Rochelle held Toulon to a 17-17 draw.
But Clermont opened up a three-point lead as tries from Arthur Iturria and Remi Lamerat, alongside 19 points from the boot of Morgan Parra, gave them a vital win.
Toulouse outscored Clermont by three tries to two on the back of a dominant pack that forced a penalty try after scores from Samoan pair Census Johnston and Joe Tekori.
But indiscipline cost the 19-time French champions who had to content themselves with a losing bonus point that leaves them sixth.
"We got off to a good start but then we were under quite a lot of pressure," admitted Clermont captain Damien Chouly.
"We were weak at the breakdown which allowed them to stay in it throughout the match. We tried to sort it out in the second half but we got two yellow cards and we were chasing the ball."
Toulouse coach Ugo Mola said his team's forward domination was due to the state of the pitch at the Stade Marcel Michelin.
"Unfortunately we weren't on top of certain sectors of the game, like our kicking. On the other hand we showed our strength in the scrum," said Mola.
"But that was also due to the excellent condition of Clermont's pitch!"
Clermont were off to a flyer after a glaring error from Toulouse scrum-half Samuel Marques in the fifth minute.
His pass deep in Toulouse territory was intercepted by Clermont fly-half Camille Lopez and although he was tackled inside the visitors' 22 by Kiwi Luke McAlister, he managed to offload to lock Iturria to score under the posts.
Toulouse hit back on 17 minutes from a close-range line-out. They got the rolling maul into gear and prop Johnston barged over to score, although Portugal's Marques hit the post with the conversion attempt.
- Pendulum swung -A mazy, darting run from Wesley Fofana took Clermont right up to the Toulouse tryline, and although Australian hooker Nathan Charles was held up a few centimetres short, a few plays later Lamerat managed to burst through.
Parra converted but Toulouse got back into the match before the break as lock Tekori bulldozed over from close range, through Parra and wing Noa Nakaitaci, after the visitors ran a succession of penalties after the half-time buzzer.
The pendulum seemed to be swinging in Toulouse's favour as Clermont's No.8 Fritz Lee was sin-binned for a high tackle on Jean-Marc Doussain with Marques kicking the penalty.
But almost immediately Parra replied to stretch back the hosts' lead to 23-15.
Clermont were struggling at the set-piece, though, and prop Thomas Domingo was yellow-carded after collapsing a scrum five yards from his own line, leaving Clermont with 13 players.
Their seven-man scrum couldn't handle the pressure and soon gave up a penalty try, with Marques converting to make it a one-point game.
Yet almost immediately, Toulouse's Fijian wing Semi Kunatani stupidly got himself sin-binned for trying to kick the ball out of Parra's hands and the scrum-half made the visitors pay by landing his fourth penalty as Lee returned to the fray.
With both teams back to full strength, Florian Fritz kicked a monstrous penalty from inside his own half but Parra had the last word with his fifth penalty.
In the day's other game, Lyon moved up three places to ninth with a 27-22 win over Pau.
On Saturday, champions Racing 92 brushed off allegations their players had tested positive for cortisone after their victory over Toulon in last year's final by winning the Paris derby 29-22 over 2015 title-winners Stade Francais, although both remain in the bottom half.
Montpellier moved up to third with a 28-19 win over Castres, while Toulon's draw at La Rochelle left them fourth.
Top 14 results:
Lyon 27-22 Pau
Clermont 29-25 Toulouse
Racing 92 29-22 Stade Francais
Bordeaux-Begles 27-25 Brive
Grenoble 44-16 Bayonne
Montpellier 28-19 Castres
La Rochelle 17-17 Toulon