Clermont go top as Haskell row rumbles on

Clermont gained revenge for their 2009 French Top 14 rugby final defeat to Perpignan by beating their rivals 22-17 on Friday to move back into pole position in this season’s title race.

Clermont were reinforced by the return of their Six Nations players -winger Julien Malzieu as well as backrow forwards Julien Bonnaire and Alexandre Lapandry all started while scrum-half Morgan Parra and prop Thomas Domingo appeared after the break.

Perpignan also welcomed back French internationals Nicolas Mas and David Marty while Maxime Mermoz returned from injury.

The sides were locked 6-6 at half-time before hooker Marius Tincu scored a 43rd minute try to give Perpignan the lead.

But the reliable boot of Australian fly-half Brock James nudged Clermont back in front with full-back Anthony Flock grabbing a crucial try in the 56th minute to help steer them to victory and top spot.

Meanwhile, the bitter row between Stade Francais and the English Rugby Football Union over James Haskell has overshadowed the French side’s build-up to Saturday’s game against Toulouse.

Stade’s request to have Haskell released from England duty on what is a blank Six Nations weekend was flatly turned down by the RFU, who insisted there was an agreement allowing them to hold on to the 24-year-old flanker.

This triggered a furious reaction from Stade Francais president Max Guazzini who said: “We never signed such a deal with the RFU.

They are holding the player to ransom, telling him ‘if you return, we’ll kick you off the national team’.

“These are astonishing moves by people who are hiding behind the rules. After all, it’s not our fault if England were beaten by Ireland at Twickenham.”

Stade’s encounter with Toulouse at a sold-out Stade de France is crucial, with Guazzini’s team lying seventh in the table, one place outside the top six sides that will qualify for the end of season play-offs, and five points behind Racing-Metro.

Toulouse are fourth, with six matches remaining.

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