Toulouse still top of the pops
Toulouse still top of the popsSHARE
Four-time European champions Toulouse remained unbeatable at their Ernest-Wallon fortress this league season with a 19-12 victory over Top 14 leaders Clermont.
A mouth-watering match-up between the most successful team in French history and the current consensus best in the business promised much, particularly during an intriguing first period, but ultimately failed to live up to expectations as it petered out into a turgid second half.
The win, though, was crucial for Toulouse as they moved up to fourth in the table with a ninth home win out of nine this season, offsetting their appalling away form that has seen them lose every one of seven trips.
"It's good to beat the leaders Clermont during this period where we weren't playing very good rugby," said Toulouse captain Thierry Dusautoir.
"That gives us a boost before the visit of Saracens (in the European Cup next weekend)."
Such was their struggles to breach Toulouse's impregnable defence that Clermont seemed to settle for a losing bonus point that took them three-points clear of second-placed Stade Francais.
It was a disappointing end to what promised so much in a blistering opening.
With a clever hitch-step, wing Yoann Huget found a gap down the side of a ruck, on the inside of cumbersome lock Julien Pierre, before flipping the ball inside to Maxime Medard to go over next to the posts on 12 minutes for the only try of the match.
Although Huget's pass bounced a couple of yards in front of where he'd let go of the ball, before Medard picked it up and went over, the video referee applied the new rules, allowing the score to stand as Huget's hand movement had been in a backward direction when he released the ball.
That try, converted by fly-half Jean-Marc Doussain, was sandwiched by two penalties from visiting No.10 Brock James, giving the hosts a 7-6 lead.
It was a brutally entertaining contest with maximum commitment from all sides, emphasised by a huge, crunching tackle by former All Black Benson Stanley on Huget.
The closest Clermont came to a try was in the 28th minute as centre Wesley Fofana made a break in the Toulouse 22, only to be hauled down a metre short by centre Clement Poitrenaud when a pop pass to his outside would surely have yielded a try for Stanley.
"We have regrets. We gave away a lot of turnovers and that doesn't get forgiven," said Fofana.
"It was a very physical match (but) we go home with something, that's better than nothing."
Jean-Marc Doussain extended Toulouse's lead six minutes from the break with a penalty but a huge kick from Australian James from wide out left that just dipped over the bar brought the gap back to a single point.
Then a 50-metre break from another former All Black Hosea Gear eventually led to a penalty for the hosts a minute before half-time, with Doussain kicking a second penalty.
Toulouse extended their lead at the start of the second half after a period of sustained pressure inside Clermont's 22 as Doussain found time and space to knock over a drop-goal.
Shortly afterwards, James came up just short with another long-range penalty.
Gear did go over in the left corner on 52 minutes after Yann David had looped around the back of a posse of forwards but the score was chalked off for blocking by the Toulouse pack.
Toulouse were managing to keep Clermont pinned deep down in their own territory and the league leaders hardly had a sniff of an attacking opportunity as Dussain added another penalty.
But six minutes from time New Zealander Mike Delaney, on as a replacement for James, kicked a penalty to earn Clermont a bonus point.
Stade Francais maintained second place with an 18-6 win at hapless basement-sitters Biarritz on Saturday.
European champions Toulon dropped to fifth as a last-gasp converted interception try from Fiji wing Alipate Ratini gave Grenoble a shock 22-21 victory at the Stade Mayol.
Champions Castres are up to third after a 15-9 win over Bordeaux-Begles on Friday while Oyonnax moved out of the relegation zone by beating inconsistent Racing-Metro 6-0 Saturday.
CA Brive-Corrèze 15-9 Montpellier Hérault
Biarritz Olympique 6-18 Stade Français
Oyonnax 6-0 Racing Métro 92
Perpignan 20-8 Aviron Bayonnais
Toulonnais 21-22 Grenoble
Castres Olympique 15-9 Union Bordeaux-Bègles
Stade Toulousain 19-12 ASM Clermont