Top 14 leaders Toulouse kept up the pace with a comfortable win at Agen on Wednesday as Toulon slipped 11 points adrift after defeat by Bayonne. Elsewhere, reigning champions Clermont saw off runners-up Perpignan in a tight contest.
AFP - Toulon may have been boosted by Jonny Wilkinson's decision to sign a new deal to stay at the club until 2013 - but they were unable to hand their fans another festive present on Wednesday, going down 20-9 to Bayonne.
The loss left the southerners 11 points behind front-runners Toulouse after the latter scored a 25-8 win at Agen.
Toulon had high hopes of trimming a seven-points deficit on Toulouse after racking up four straight wins but once again Bayonne caught them on the hop, having already seen off Wilkinson's men on the opening day of the season.
Toulon were in the hunt at the break, trailing just 8-6, but thereafter their challenge fell away as three Cedric Garcia penalties and a drop goal increased the margin while Jocelino Suta undermined the visitors with an 18th-minute red card for crunching third rower Remy Martin - who had to go off moments later.
Wilkinson, who has been suffering from a shoulder injury, did send over two early penalties and Juan Martin Fernandez-Lobbe added another but Toulon were unable to improve on that as Jean-Baptiste Peyras bagged the only try of the match for the hosts after an early Benjamin Boyet penalty.
Garcia's boot did the rest as Toulon dropped to eighth.
"It's frustrating as with 14 against 15 you are chasing the game," admitted Toulon manager Philippe Saint-Andre.
Toulouse maintained their title push after they piled up all their points in the opening period at Agen, who finally added a little respectability with a late Ueleni Fono try to add to an earlier penalty from Valentin Courrent.
Vincent Clerc claimed a 17th-minute try for Toulouse which David Skrela converted before thumping over six penalties.
Toulouse thus maintained a two-point lead over Montpellier, who edged Biarritz 22-16.
Racing-Metro are third, six points off the pace, despite being held 6-6 at home by Brive while Castres are two points further back in joint fourth with Biarritz after a 25-10 win over struggling La Rochelle.
In late action, reigning champions Clermont struggled before seeing off previous winners 22-16 - but neither side looks capable of mounting a title push at the moment, Clermont being nine points adrift of Toulouse and Perpignan nine points worse off than that in the lower reaches of the table.
Both sides managed a solitary try each - Julien Candelon going over for Perpignan after Brock James had drawn first blood for Clermont with a penalty.
Jerome Porical's conversion helped Perpignan to a 13-9 lead at the break but Italian centre Gonzalo Canale touched down on 47 minutes and then James converted before helping himself to four more penalties.
Elsewhere, Stade Francais prop David Attoub, banned for 52 weeks for gouging in a European Cup match in December 2009, made a return from the replacements' bench in his side's 26-16 win at bottom club Bourgoin.
The 29-year-old Attoub was suspended for eye-gouging Stephen Ferris during Stade's 23-13 European Cup defeat to Ulster in Belfast on December 12 last year and received an initial 70-week ban from competition organisers before France's National Olympic Committee intervened and had the suspension reduced to 52 weeks.
Despite the win, Stade remain stranded in the bottom half of the table, 14 points behind Toulouse.
Date created : 2010-12-30