Clermont back to winning ways
TOP14 WRAP: Reigning French champions Clermont snapped a calamitous six-match losing run on Sunday with a gritty 21-17 win over La Rochelle, while Ben Botica excelled as Oyonnax grabbed themselves a Top 14 lifeline.
Fijian flank Peceli Yato sprang over in the corner on four minutes as Clermont, humiliated at home last weekend by bottom side Oyonnax, made a promising start at the Stade Marcel Michelin.
Alexi Bales knocked over three first-half penalties for La Rochelle, but two from the boot of Scotland scrumhalf Greig Laidlaw ensured Clermont went into the interval 11-9 ahead.
Bales slotted over again to bump the visitors in front by a point, although their lead was brief as Arthur Iturria crossed the whitewash following sustained Clermont pressure.
A Laidlaw conversion and subsequent penalty gave Clermont breathing space that proved crucial when Gregory Alldritt grabbed a try in the dying seconds to snatch a losing bonus point for La Rochelle.
Clermont remain 10th in the table, 16 points adrift of the playoff berths, while La Rochelle trail sixth-placed Castres by a point.
Earlier, New Zealander Botica scored 18 points as Oyonnax bolstered their late-season push to beat the drop with a 33-27 victory over Stade Francais.
Botica crossed for a try, kicked two conversions and three penalties in a match-winning personal haul that gave rock-bottom Oyonnax a second straight victory.
The defeat, a fifth in a row, dragged Stade further into the relegation dogfight.
The Parisians are just two points above second-from-bottom Brive and six ahead of Oyonnax, having lost to a relegation zone team for the second week in a row.
Last week Stade dropped a 36-34 thriller to Agen, who climbed two places to 11th this weekend following their shock 31-29 victory over leaders Montpellier on Saturday.
Like Agen, Oyonnax are upwardly mobile having stunned champions Clermont 18-12 at their Marcel Michelin fortress last week. Before that, they had just one league win in a miserable season.
Three early Botica penalties set Oyonnax on the way to victory in a match in which they trailed for only seven minutes after Jules Plisson converted an 18th minute try from Willem Alberts.
Oyonnax hit back with tries from Daniel Ikpefan, New Zealand international hooker Hikawera Elliot and Botica to open up a healthy 28-10 lead.
Stade scored a penalty try on the stroke of half-time with Oyonnax's Georgian prop Irakli Mirtskhulava in the sin-bin.
Yet the 14 men started the second half by scoring another try through Ikpefan and although Stade hit back through Julien Arias and Marvin O'Connor, the hosts held on for a crucial victory.
On Saturday, Montpellier's former All Black Jarrad Hoeata was sent off after just six minutes. His ex-international teammate Aaron Cruden then missed a potentially winning penalty a minute from time in a two-point defeat at Agen.
Racing 92 closed the gap to the leaders to three points with a 17-13 win over Brive while Toulouse are only a point further adrift after winning 25-19 at Bordeaux-Begles
Oyonnax 33 Stade Francais 27
Clermont 21 La Rochelle 17
Agen 31 Montpellier 29
Castres 27 Pau 29
Lyon 15 Toulon 6
Racing92 17 Brive 13
Bordeaux-Begles 19 Toulouse 25