Parra guides Clermont to victory over Castres

Clermont overcame eight missed points from the boot of Brock James to claim a hard-fought 25-19 win over Top 14 rivals Castres on Friday.

James had a shocker in the European Cup quarter-final loss to Leinster last week and the Australian saw two penalties and a conversion drift wide in the first-half.

But France scrum-half Morgan Parra came on for the second-half and took over kicking duties as the home side outscored the visitors by three tries to one to move into second spot of the Top 14 on 74 points.

Castres nabbed a loser’s bonus point and stand third on 73 points, one point ahead of Toulon, who play leaders Perpignan (75) on Saturday, with teams battling for the top two spots which would see them avoid finishing third through sixth and having to play quarter-finals for the end-of-season play-off matches.

Romain Teulet, playing at outside-half instead of his preferred full-back position, opened the score for Castres after three minutes with a long-range penalty.

James missed an opportunity to draw level, but Teulet doubled his account at the quarter.

James also dragged his second effort wide but made amends moments later with a well-weighted pass for South African centre Marius Joubert to pick off and crash in at the corner.

France winger Marc Andreu hit back with a fine individual try, ducking and diving through tackles from Julien Bonnaire and Anthony Floch to find a way to the whitewash for a five-pointer Teulet converted.

Teulet was again on target with a third effort five minutes into the second-half but Clermont hit back through an Elvis Vermuelen push-over try, converted by Morgan Parra.

Parra nailed a penalty in the 65th minute to bring Clermont back to within a point. The home side then charged into the lead just seconds later when centre Gonzalo Canale charged down a chip from the re-start and sprinted in for a try Parra also converted.

Castres came charging back after Mario Ledsma spilled the kick-off and Teulet was successful with a snap drop-goal in front of the posts to bring the score back to 22-19 to the hosts.

But Parra hit a third penalty with nine minutes to play and Clermont held out to claim a 25-19 victory.

On Saturday, defending champions Perpignan take on Toulon in Marseille’s Velodrome stadium.

The battle for the final sixth spot reaches a climax with seventh-placed Biarritz travelling to Paris to take on Racing-Metro, in sixth, while eighth-placed Brive are hoping for their rivals to slip up as they travel to Bayonne in 13th.

Uncertainty reigns at the other end of the table due to Montauban’s financial relegation, which they are appealing.

Nevertheless they will be looking for a strong finish to the season against fellow strugglers Montpellier, who can ensure their survival with a win.

Bourgoin are looking for a home success against fifth-placed Toulouse.

Albi welcome fallen giants Stade Francais in a meaningless tie as the hosts are already relegated and the Parisians cannot make the play-offs.

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