Toulouse edge Clermont to seal play-off berth
TOP 14 WRAP: Leaders Toulouse touched down the 10th try of the game with less than three minutes left on Sunday to edge second-place Clermont 47-44 and clinch a place in the Top 14 play-offs.
The victory gave Toulouse an eight-point lead over Clermont in the race for top seeding. More importantly, it put them 23 points ahead of seventh place La Rochelle with four rounds to play.
The earlier game was also a nail biter as Racing 92 squeezed by Montpellier, 26-25. The result consolidated Racing’s fifth place in the table.
Toulouse can focus on a European semifinal away to Leicester next weekend while Clermont might worry that they could lose their first-round playoff bye to Lyon, who are seven points behind.
Toulouse kicker Thomas Ramos did not miss all afternoon and the final difference was that Ramos kicked one more penalty than Clermont’s Greig Laidlaw.
The home team had the lead in the 48th minute after Cheslin Kolbe turned a slip to his advantage. The winger started left, but his feet flew out from beneath him.
As the surprised Clermont defenders watched, Kolbe jumped up, cut back against the grain and skipped past five flailing tacklers to score.
Clermont responded at once. After a line-out, Nanai Williams caught the advancing home defence flatfooted with a chipped kick. Hulking Fijian flanker Peceli Yato ran on to catch the ball as the Toulouse backs kept a respectful distance.
Jerome Kaino received a yellow card for blocking the run of Wesley Fofana who, it turned out, was the wrong man.
Scot Richie Gray bulled over to give the home team a 10-point lead with 20 minutes to play. Nine minutes later, they trailed by 11. Penaud finished a slick 12-pass move by touching down in the corner.
The winger completed his hat trick when he pounced on a Toulouse fumble and raced more than half the length of the field to touch down.
Clermont’s third try in seven minutes came at a price.
Hooker Yohan Beheregaray was rumbling toward the Toulouse line when flanker Joe Tekori missiled into him, shoulder first, briefly preventing a try.
Referee Romain Poite awarded Clermont a penalty try and showed Tekori a yellow card. The Samoan trotted off for 10 minutes. Beheregaray was carried off on a stretcher.
Toulouse again hit back with 14 men. Romain Ntamack sprinted round the Clermont flank to touch down in the corner. Ramos converted from the touchline and Toulouse trailed by four.
Clermont’s Samoan flanker Fritz Lee received a yellow card for a high tackle in the buildup.
Both teams were down to 14 and Clermont led by just four points.
Toulouse pressed and with less than four minutes to play, Guitoune darted between two tacklers and squirmed over to put Toulouse back ahead.
Ramos converted to take his tally for the match to 22 points.
Toulouse secured the ball from the restart and clung on to win a thrilling match.
Earlier on Sunday, Maxime Machenaud kicked 16 points and Racing scored two vital tries while Montpellier were reduced to 14.
Montpellier scored two first half tries after Benoit Paillaugue penalties came back off the post. The scrum half himself scored the first, centre Jan Serfontein scored the second in the corner.
After Georgian prop Levan Chilachava was yellow carded for hands in a ruck, Racing flanker Baptiste Chouzenoux crashed over deep into time added on.
Paillaugue put Montpellier ahead again when he burrowed over from close to the line.
With five minutes to play, after an offside Jacques du Plessis saw yellow, Henry Chavancy muscled his way over for a try that Machenaud converted for the crucial one-point lead.
Elsewhere, Stade Francais confirmed Sunday that backs Tony Ensor and Kylan Hamdaoui were both recovering after they were stretchered off following a collision in Saturday’s 25-22 victory over Agen.