Clermont snatch late win over Toulon in Top 14

Clermont's Patricio Fernandez (R) vies for the ball with RC Toulon's New Zealand centre Maa Nonu (L)

Clermont consolidated their lead of the Top 14 when a last-gasp converted Damien Chouly try saw them snatch a win over Toulon.

Up until the 76th minute, it had been a kicking battle at Marseille’s Stade Velodrome between the two sides’ scrum-halves, Clermont’s Morgan Parra and Jonathan Pelissie of home side Toulon.

The latter knocked over three in the first-half to Parra’s brace. That trend continued in the second period, Pelissie booting Toulon out to what looked like a winning 18-12 scoreline.

But Parra had the last word, nailing the crucial conversion of Chouly’s try with four minutes to play.

The victory was Clermont’s seventh successive league win and left them atop the standings on 70 points, six ahead of Montpellier and Racing 92, with Toulon in fourth on 62 points after nabbing a losing bonus point.

The defeat came at a hefty price for Toulon, with injuries to France hooker Guilhem Guirado (shoulder) and Australia full-back Drew Mitchell (groin), while Mitchell’s replacement Frederic Michalak also spent much of the game hobbling around.

The early kicking contest belied an entertaining encounter with both sides willing to run the ball.

But that all changed as the clock ran down and the tempo flagged.

Toulon momentarily took their eye off the game and Clermont full-back Scott Spedding’s perfectly-weighted grubber kick was picked up by Fijian winger Alivereti Raka.

Raka, who has come through Clermont’s rugby academy in Fiji and will be eligible for France in 2018, cut back inside and found France No 8 Chouly who went in under the posts with not a defender to be seen.

Parra kept his nerve to bag the two extra points and leave Toulon disappointed with their lack of finishing skills ahead of a crunch European Champions Cup quarter-final at Racing 92 next weekend.

Racing warmed up for that match with a three-try, 28-20 win at Bordeaux on Saturday.

With All Blacks superstar Dan Carter rested ahead of the European game, it was left to Racing’s South African contingent to grab the headlines for the big-spending Paris outfit.

Full-back Johannes Goosen notched up 23 points, including two tries, while France-capped compatriot Antonie Claassen also scored a five-pointer.

One week out from their European Cup clash against Leicester, reigning Top 14 champions Stade Francais slumped to a 13th league defeat of the season, losing 21-18 to unheralded La Rochelle.

After crashing to a heavy 36-3 defeat at Toulouse last weekend, even the return of international stars Antoine Burban, Djibril Camara, Hugo Bonneval, Rabah Slimani and Jules Plisson from Six Nations duty failed to inspire.

Plisson kicked a perfect six penalties from six attempts to at least give the Paris giants a losing bonus point as their domestic season drags to a close.

Castres kept up their push for a play-off place with a 15-9 derby triumph over Toulouse. They now sit seventh, one spot outside the crucial top six on 49 points, just four behind Bordeaux and Toulouse.

On Friday, Montpellier shrugged off torrential rain to defeat Brive 19-3 as a sixth successive victory took Jake White’s team into second spot.

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