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Montpellier take Top 14 lead with Toulouse win

© AFP / by Jed COURT | Montpellier winger Gabriel Ngambe De (C) is congratulated by his teammates Joseph Tomane (L) and Jesse Mogg (R) after scoring during the French Top14 rugby union match against Toulouse on November 18, 2017 at the Altrad stadium in Montpellier, France

PARIS (AFP) - 

Montpellier returned to the Top 14 summit with an impressive 32-22 victory over Toulouse on Saturday, after previous leaders Lyon were beaten at champions Clermont.

Hosts Montpellier ran in two tries in each half to see off the challenge of Toulouse, who crossed only once through South African Maks van Dyk.

Vern Cotter's side continued their excellent start to the season, despite missing inspirational captain Louis Picamoles who is on French international duty, with a bonus-point victory to move four points clear at the top.

Toulouse remain fourth in the table, but are now nine points adrift of Montpellier.

Lyon's 39-18 defeat to Clermont leaves them trailing Montpellier by four points.

Toulouse started brightly at Montpellier's Altrad Stadium, with Australian centre Zack Holmes slotting over two early penalties.

Benoit Paillaugue responded with a penalty of his own for the high-flying home team, before Jan Serfontein, one of Montpellier's posse of South Africans, crossed for the opening try.

Scrum-half Paillaugue kicked the conversion, and was called upon to add two more points to his tally less than two minutes later when Gabriel Ngandebe touched down to make it 17-6.

Ill-discipline prevented Montpellier from keeping their lead in double digits though, as Holmes added six more points from the tee before half-time.

But Toulouse were reduced to 13 men shortly after the interval as both Clement Castets and Samoan Joe Tekori were sin-binned, and Australian fullback Jesse Mogg made them pay by scoring try number three.

Paillaugue failed with the conversion, allowing Holmes to keep the four-time European champions in touch with his fifth penalty.

After a second Paillaugue penalty, Van Dyk's score set up a tense finale with Holmes taking his personal haul to 17 points, but Australian wing Joe Tomane sealed Montpellier's eighth win of the season by racing clear with 12 minutes remaining.

- Clermont's home comforts -

Earlier on Saturday, Fijian wing Alivereti Raka barrelled over for a pair of tries and created another as Clermont revived their stuttering campaign with a 39-18 win over surprise package Lyon.

Franck Azema's side have now won all five of their home games this term, alongside five straight defeats on the road.

Former All Black Rudi Wulf touched down early on for Lyon, but Raka set up David Strettle for a Clermont try before forcing his way over just prior to half-time at the Stade Marcel-Michelin.

Morgan Parra pounced on a handling error from replacement centre Theo Belan, sticking in his boot before plunging down on the loose ball to stretch Clermont's lead to 22-10.

Raka then skipped clear of the Lyon defence to claim his second try as Parra -- who knocked over two penalties and four conversions -- tacked on the extras.

Clermont played the final few minutes a man down after Tongan prop Loni Uhila was red-carded for a dangerous late tackle on Lyon fly-half Lionel Beauxis.

Jone Tuva escaped down the wing to give Lyon hope of scratching out a losing bonus point, but instead Clermont snatched a bonus-point win as Sitaleki Timani ploughed over at the death.

The result left Clermont, who lost Argentine fly-half Patricio Fernandez to a potentially serious knee injury, 14 points behind Montpellier.

Bordeaux-Begles held on with 14 men to beat lowly Agen 33-23 and strengthen their grip on a top-six place, while Castres inflicted a 31-15 loss on last term's regular-season table-toppers La Rochelle.

by Jed COURT

© 2017 AFP