Toulon thump Top14 leaders Clermont

Drew Mitchell of Toullon slips through the Clermont defence

European Rugby Champions Toulon showed that they cannot be written off by thumping Top14 Rugby leaders Clermont 35-9 on Saturday.

Toulon’s form in the European Rugby Champions Cup has been shaky having been beaten 32-6 by Wasps last week but they returned to the Top14 with a bang.

The European heavyweights started the day in the bottom half of the table and finished the round in third place.

With Australian World Cup finalists Matt Giteau and Drew Mitchell and fellow Wallaby James O’Connor in the starting line-up, Toulon inflicted a rare home defeat on a strangely subdued Clermont.

Toulon even managed an attacking bonus point to move up to third, just two points behind Clermont.

The visitors turned on the style in the first 40 minutes, scoring tries through Delon Armitage and scrum-half Eric Escande.

Brilliant handling between second row Samu Manoa and centre Mathieu Bastareaud set up Armitage to run in from the left on 16 minutes, replying to Morgan Parra’s early penalty for the hosts.

Parra and Armitage exchanged penalties before the European champions struck again.

The second try came on 36 minutes as Escande took the ball from the back of a maul and attacked down the blindside, chipping ahead for wing Mitchell to collect and pass back inside for the half-back to scamper over.

He missed the conversion, however, while Armitage was well wide with a long-range penalty attempt as Toulon went in at the break with a 15-6 lead that didn’t tell the full story of their domination.

But two more Escande penalties after Parra had landed his third extended the lead before Clermont’s replacement flanker Julien Bardy was sin-binned for coming in at the side with Toulon attacking the line.

Toulon kicked to touch and as they tried to drive over a rolling maul, Clermont infringed and referee Mathieu Raynal ran under the posts to award a penalty try.

And after the final hooter, replacement Steffon Armitage stole breakdown ball and sent Mitchell running in from long range to net the fourth try under the posts, adding insult to injury.

Earlier, New Zealand star Dan Carter was presented to his adoring new fans before Racing 92 gave their latest recruit something to cheer in beating Toulouse 28-13.

“With this unusual end of the week in which every conversation subject turned to Dan Carter’s arrival, we wondered whether the group, who were excited, would be perturbed or by contrast invigorated,” said Racing’s backs coach Laurent Labit as his side moved up to second, a point behind Clermont.

“That’s why it’s so satisfying to have beaten a direct rival for qualification (for the post-season play-offs).”

Centre Henry Chavancy scored the only try of the first-half, just before the break, following good work from Yannick Nyanga, against his former employers, while Maxime Machenaud added the conversion to send the Parisians into the lockeroom 13-3 ahead.

However, an opportunist try from international wing Vincent Clerc slashed the deficit to 13-8 before Toulouse lock Yoann Maestri was sin-binned on 58 minutes following a dangerous tackle.

Racing took immediate advantage and extended their lead to 18-8 after a rolling maul crashed across the line with hooker Dmitri Szarzewski touching down.

But the four-time European champions refused to buckle and an Arthur Bonneval score kept them in touch.

However, a late try from Racing’s New Zealander No.8 Chris Masoe put the result beyond doubt.

In other games, 1997 European champions Brive moved up to fourth with an impressive bonus-point 34-9 victory at Oyonnax, who dropped to the bottom of the table.

Agen moved off the bottom despite losing 23-18 at home to 2013 champions Castres as that was enough to pick up a losing bonus point.

Scrum-half Yann Lesgourgues scored four tries as Bordeaux-Begles got six in total in thrashing second division champions Pau 46-10.

Champions Stade Francais travel to Grenoble on Sunday in the final game of the weekend.

French Top 14 results on Saturday:

Racing 28 Toulouse 13

Oyonnax 9 Brive 34

Bordeaux-Begles 46 Pau 10

Agen 18 Castres 23

Clermont 9 Toulon 35

Playing Sunday

Grenoble v Stade Francais (1515 GMT)

Played Friday

Montpellier 25 La Rochelle 20

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