Brett marks Clermont debut with last-kick rescue
TOP 14 WRAP: Veteran New Zealand kicker Stephen Brett marked his Clermont debut with a last-minute penalty which allowed the French Top 14 title chasers to escape from Bordeaux with a 23-all draw on Sunday.
The 31-year-old Brett, who only signed for Clermont earlier this month as cover for Camille Lopez, called-up by France for Six Nations duty, and the injured Patricio Fernandez, kept his cool with a 30-metre kick to salvage the draw.
But the result was not enough to move Clermont back to the top of the table after they were deposed by La Rochelle 24 hours earlier.
"We knew that Bordeaux would start strongly and that was the case," said Clermont coach Franck Azema.
"But what gives me pleasure is to see how we can resist. We had a lot of changes in the team today but we did not panic."
Missing six players away on French international duty, as well as star centre Wesley Fofana, sidelined by an Achilles tendon rupture, Clermont were 14-0 down after just 18 minutes.
Kiwi loose forward Luke Braid put Bordeaux in front with a try after just seven minutes before scrum-half Yann Lesgourgues added a second, 10 minutes later.
Simon Hickey kicked the extras on both occasions for a Bordeaux side looking to end a four-match losing streak in the Top 14. A Brett penalty was all Clermont had to show for their efforts.
Benson Stanley, a former Auckland Blues teammate of Brett's, cut the deficit to 14-10 with a 43rd-minute converted try for Clermont.
In a match between two teams who were facing each other for the eighth time in the last two seasons -- the two also met in this season's European Cup pool stages -- the momentum kept swinging.
Hickey made it 17-10 with another penalty before a converted score by lock forward Sitaleki Timani made it 17-17 with half an hour left.
Hickey and Brett exchanged penalties before Ian Madigan booted a 73rd-minute penalty to edge Bordeaux ahead again at 23-20.
With three minutes left, Brett missed his first kick of the day but held his nerve in the dying seconds when he slotted over the equalising penalty for a share of the spoils.
On Saturday, La Rochelle went top with a 23-20 win at big-spending three-time European champions Toulon.
Toulon president Mourad Boudjellal was so angry that he immediately threatened to cancel the players' vacations during the forthcoming three-week break for the Six Nations.
However, after discussions with Toulon's English coach Mike Ford, it was agreed that the squad would be back at work from February 5, a full 13 days before their next Top 14 clash against Lyon.
It's understood that the players were already due to return to duty on February 8 but even that was too generous for Boudjellal in the immediate aftermath of a defeat which left fifth-placed Toulon 12 points off La Rochelle.
"Holidays are cancelled. I don't care about airline tickets or anything like that, it's their problem," fumed Boudjellal.
Defending champions Racing 92 gave up a 19-13 half-time lead to lose 37-25 to Lyon.
Adding to Racing's problems was the sight of All Blacks star Dan Carter limping off with what appeared to be a groin injury.
Defeat left Racing in 10th place, six points off the play-offs, while Lyon moved 10 points clear of relegation.
Sixth-placed Toulouse suffered a shock 20-10 loss to Pau who have now won four matches in succession.
Castres moved into fourth spot with a 38-25 win over Montpellier, the team above them in third.
Second-bottom Grenoble boosted their survival hopes with a bonus-point 44-22 win over struggling Stade Francais.
Bayonne 33 Brive 23
Bordeaux-Begles 23 Clermont 23
Toulon 20 La Rochelle 23
Castres 38 Montpellier 25
Grenoble 44 Stade Francais 22
Toulouse 10 Pau 20
Lyon 37 Racing92 25
Table (played, won, drawn, lost, points for, points against, bonus points, total points):
La Rochelle 17 10 3 4 439 313 8 54
Clermont 17 10 3 4 497 351 7 53
Montpellier 17 10 0 7 434 378 6 46
Castres 17 9 1 7 438 347 5 43
Toulon 17 8 1 8 408 363 8 42
Toulouse 17 9 0 8 348 333 6 42
Bordeaux-Begles 17 8 1 8 397 388 5 39
Pau 16 8 0 8 366 395 5 37
Brive 16 8 1 7 343 381 2 36
Racing92 16 8 1 7 350 349 2 36
Stade Francais 17 7 1 9 397 431 4 34
Lyon 16 6 2 8 325 361 5 33
Grenoble 17 4 0 13 392 537 7 23
Bayonne 16 4 2 10 256 453 0 20