La Rochelle wrest Top 14 leadership from Montpellier
The hosts, aggressive in defence and stronger in the scrums, were not going to pass up a chance to unseat Montpellier who again struggled on the road, though not as badly as in their humiliating 0-26 loss at Racing 92 the week before
La Rochelle, who have won all their home games this season, dominated but was unusually strangely uncertain and wasted several scoring chances in the second half when they could have built on a 16-6 lead.
Instead, Montpellier scored a try to close to within five points with 10 minutes left.
La Rochelle responded by bending their backs and pushed towards victory through the scrums they took each time they were awarded a penalty in the closing stages
The home team put the seal on victory after winning a scrum in the 79th minute. Brock James sidestepped three times as he went through to score the try which stripped Montpellier of a defensive bonus point.
"There are lots of things to look at and to work on," said La Rochelle head coach Patrice Collazo.
"Montpellier wanted to improve after their display at Racing, they succeeded in stopping us playing and pushing us out of our game plan."
In the first half, Montpellier paid for their errors and indiscipline.
Home fullback Vincent Rattez pounced on a dropped Montpellier ball after 16 minutes to launch a 70-metre counter attack with a kick downfield. Paul Jordaan gave chase and kicked on again before touching down.
Montpellier also conceded four penalties in range of their goal posts and Alexi Bales converted all of them
"We are disappointed to leave La Rochelle without a point," said Fulgence Ouedraogo, the Montpellier captain. "We made a huge effort but weren't precise enough and were too ill-disciplined."
Elsewhere, Castres came away from their trip to Toulouse with a 41-31 win to move above their hosts into fifth.
This was their fifth successive win and their first at Toulouse since 1978.
Brive scraped a 33-30 win over bottom side Oyonnax, and Pau saw off Bordeaux-Begles 27-17 courtesy of two late penalties from Tom Taylor.
In Saturday's late game Toulon ended a run of three defeats with a 39-11 home win over third-placed Lyon, inspired by two tries from England wing Chris Ashton.
La Rochelle 26 Montpellier 14
Pau 27 Bordeaux-Begles 17
Brive 33 Oyonnax 30
Toulouse 31 Castres 41
Toulon 39 Lyon 11
Clermont v Agen
Stade Francais v Racing 92