Castres end leaders Clermont's 13-match unbeaten run

Paris (AFP) –


French Top 14 champions Castres ended league leaders Clermont's 13-game unbeaten run with a gritty 24-16 victory on Saturday.

French wingers Armand Battle and Martin Laveau scored tries for the hosts as the visitors lost for the first time since October 6.

Peceli Yato crossed in the first half for Franck Azema's side who were without six players who are part of France's squad preparing for the Six Nations.

Their second-half efforts which included a touchdown for Remy Grosso and a Greig Laidlaw penalty goal proved futile.

The hosts dominated the opening half an hour of play and claimed the early lead as winger Battle crossed for only his second try of the campaign.

Benjamin Urdapilleta added a penalty goal before Castres' second try to consolidate their control of proceedings at Stade Pierre-Fabre.

Youngster Laveau dotted down as Argentina international Urdapilleta made the most of an overlap to find the 22-year-old in space on the right wing.

Clermont's reaction came with their first possession inside Castres' 22-metre line as Fiji back-rower Yato powered over from the back of a scrum two minutes from half-time.

Referee Jerome Garces, who will oversee the Ireland against England Six Nations match on February 2, validated the five points after help from the television match official.

The visitors started the second half perfectly as former Castres winger Grosso intercepted a loose pass to run in from inside his own half unopposed.

Urdapilleta slotted two extra penalty goals before Scotland scrum-half Laidlaw brought the teams within five points just after the hour mark with an effort of his own.

Laidlaw missed the chance to close the gap to two points as his shot at goal glanced to the right of the posts before France international Rory Kockott sealed the win with 10 minutes remaining with his tenth penalty of the Top 14 campaign.

Clermont coach Azema criticised his team's performance in the opening 40 minutes.

"We saw a small Clermont today. We didn't play with the necessary intensity especially in the first half when Castres had 70% of possession," he said.

"Is our first place under threat? Yes, but top spot never gives you the title," he added.

Captain Damien Chouly shared his boss' thoughts.

"It took us a half to get into the game. We didn't have the ball in the first half and then had to play catch up in the second," he said.

Elsewhere, former New Zealand centre Seta Tamanivalu scored his first try in French rugby as Bordeaux-Begles beat Agen 25-17.

La Rochelle clinched a late 27-25 victory over Montpellier thanks to Jone Qovu's 74th minute touchdown to keep hold of third place.

Ex-All Blacks fly-half Colin Slade slotted 20 points with the boot to guide Pau to only their second league win since October, overcoming bottom-placed Perpignan 30-24.

In the final fixture of the day, Lyon stayed fourth after seeing off Racing92 32-11 for a third successive win.

For Racing, it was a third defeat away from home in the Top 14.