Clermont return to top spot in France

Clermont defeated Toulouse 24-6 Sunday to return to the summit of the French Top 14 for the first time since August after a weekend which saw title rivals Toulon and Stade Francais both lose.

The result also extended Toulouse’s miserable record at the Marcel Michelin stadium where they haven’t won since 2002.

Clermont ran in two tries either side of the break through French international centres Aurelien Rougerie and Wesley Fofana with fly-half Camille Lopez kicking 14 points.

Toby Flood and Luke McAlister booted over a penalty apiece for Toulouse who had also lost the season’s first meeting between the teams 13-9.

On Saturday, South African World Cup winning coach Jake White got off to a winning start at Montpellier as the Top 14 strugglers beat European and French champions Toulon 16-12.

White was brought in as a consultant to replace the suspended Fabien Galthie in an aim to stem the tide of eight losses in their last nine matches in European and domestic action.

And powered by a second-half Alex Tulou try converted by Ben Lucas, Montpellier grabbed a determined victory in front of their home crowd to move up to seventh with 35 points, a point behind Bordeaux (36), who fell 12-9 at Racing-Metro, and ahead of Toulouse (33).

Benoit Paillaugue had put Montpellier ahead with two early penalties as the score was balanced 6-6 at half-time while all of Toulon’s points came off the boot of Welsh full-back Leigh Halfpenny.

“Jake White told the players to get back to basics and what we repeated throughout the week was produced on the pitch today,” said Montpellier president Mohed Altrad.

Toulon, who have now lost back-to-back games, are third in the table two points behind Stade Francais who fell 12-9 at Lyon on Friday in a game which saw South African fly-half Morne Steyn red-carded.

Steyn, the 30-year-old top-scorer at the 2011 World Cup, had confidently kicked Stade into a 6-0 lead courtesy of a 40-metre penalty and a quick-thinking drop goal.

But after Mosese Ratuvou had cut the deficit with the night’s opening try, Steyn saw red in the 31st minute for kicking the Fijian winger as the two tussled on the ground.

It left Stade to play 50 minutes with 14 men and Lyon took full advantage when Ratuvou added a second try early in the second period, muscling his way over after a sharp pass from Ricky Januarie.

Racing-Metro came from behind to beat visiting Bordeaux-Begles 12-9 and are now fourth.

Racing had trailed 6-9 at the break following three Lionel Beauxis penalty kicks for Bordeaux but powered back in the second half with Maxime Machenaud scoring all their points through penalties.

Castres, meanwhile, suffered a second straight loss for the first time this season — falling 30-15 to relegation rivals La Rochelle.

In a bottom-of-the-table clash Brive were carried by Gaetan Germain who scored all their points in a 25-9 win over Bayonne.

It was a lift for Brive a week after their hammering by Bordeaux and allows Nicolas Godignon’s side to move up to ninth, three points above the relegation zone.

“It’s not a relief because the season is still long but it was an important match, in the heart of winter, and I’m proud of the boys for doing what they needed,” said Godignon.

“It’s satisfying to see them leave with zero points because they’re a team we’re neck and neck with in the battle against relegation.”

Bordeaux have been overtaken by Grenoble who are now fifth after bouncing back from consecutive defeats with a bonus point in a 33-19 win over Oyonnax.

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