Clermont goes eight points clear
TOP 14 WRAP: An outstanding all-round display from scrumhalf Morgan Parra inspired leaders Clermont to a hard-fought 28-23 win at Montpellier on Saturday, moving them eight points clear at the top of the Top 14.
Parra, making his first start in more than seven weeks after suffering a wrist injury which kept him out of France’s November Tests, kicked 10 points as Clermont edged a gripping contest to claim their 10th win in 13 games this season across all competitions.
Franck Azema’s side are eight points clear of Toulouse, who welcome Stade Francais on Sunday, and La Rochelle who won at home, 16-11, against Racing 92.
Also on Saturday, Lyon beat visiting Pau, 30-10, to climb to fourth. They overtook champions Castres who lost at home to Agen, 16-13,.
A third home defeat of the season means Montpellier, who picked up a defensive bonus point, are in eighth, two points off the play-off places.
“We played well in the first 60 minutes but the final 20 were not as good,” said Azema, whose side led 28-9 after 57 minutes.
“It’s important to confirm our place at the top of the table,” the coach said. “It’s better for us to get in this position as early as possible. It’s good to have the temperament and take points home from the trip to Montpellier”
France centre Wesley Fofana, also recently returned from injury, opened the scoring with a scintillating effort after 10 minutes.
Montpellier scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar kicked three penalties within the first half an hour before Parra put Clermont 10-9 up just before the break.
Wing Damien Penaud extended Clermont’s advantage on 46 minutes after catching a cross-kick from former Montpellier’s flyhalf Aaron Cruden on his own line and running the length of the field to score.
Cruden injured a hamstring giving chase.
Alivereti Raka – playing for a place in the Six Nations after receiving his French nationality last month – created Clermont’s third try with a grubber kick that full back Isaia Toeava touched down.
South Africa-born lock Paul Willemse, who received his French citizenship on Friday, played the whole game for Montpellier.
Trailing 28-9, Vern Cotter’s side fought back as Vincent Giudicelli and Yvan Reilhac dotted down but Clermont held on to win.
“It’s the perfect example of a match we gave to our opponents,” said Cotter, blaming lapses of concentration for several Clermont scores. “We’ve got to stop doing these idiotic things.”
Peceli Yato’s yellow card in injury time, for a tip-tackle on Johan Goosen, means no visiting side has played at Montpellier this season without losing a player for disciplinary reasons.
On the Atlantic coast, La Rochelle won their fifth straight game as they edged Racing in incessant rain.
Despite the conditions, the home team showed attacking intent and were rewarded with tries by Pierre Aguillon and Ihaia West.
Stade, who play Leicester in a pivotal European game next weekend, snatched a losing bonus point when Teddy Iribaren kicked a penalty in added time.
Montpellier 23 Clermont 28
Lyon 30 Pau 10
Castres 13 Agen 16
La Rochelle 16 Racing 92 11
Toulon 22 Grenoble 3
Perpignan v Bordeaux-Begles (11.30 GMT)
Toulouse v Stade Francais (15.50 GMT)