Clermont Auvergne kept up the pressure on leaders Toulouse as both sides secured away victories in the sixteenth round of the French Top 14. Elsewhere Toulon showed their championship ambitions with a crushing victory over struggling Bayonne and Montpellier's bonus point victory over Stade FranÃ§ais saw them leap from eighth to fifth in the table.
Montpellier 38 “ 6 Stade FranÃ§ais
For want of a better analogy, the clash between Montpellier and Stade FranÃ§ais at the Stade Yves du Manoir was the proverbial footballing six-pointer.
Both sides were two of the form teams heading into Friday night's clash, Montpellier in recent weeks have reeled in the top half of the table, and started the game just four points adrift of their opponents.
Stade have been scoring tries for fun at home this season, but their defensive frailties on the road were exposed in a scrappy encounter in which Montpellier eventually ran out comfortable winners.
There was little to separate the sides in the opening 38 minutes, the usually reliable Martin Bustos Moyano, missing four of his six first half attempts at goal. But it was from a missed Julien Dupuy penalty that the first try of the game came about.
The Stade scrum-half was a shade wide with an attempt from the half-way line with a minute remaining in the half. A quickly taken 22 drop out by Francois Trinh-Duc saw Montpellier score a stunning length-of-the-field try with Martin Bustos Moyano touching down to give the hosts a 13-3 half-time lead.
Trinh-Duc was involved in Montpellier's second try on the hour, with Paul Bosch running onto the France stand-off's subtle chip after Julien Dupuy had scored his second penalty of the match for Stade.
It was a similar kick over the top by Trinh-Duc that gave Montpellier the bonus-point winning third try with four minutes remaining, this time Nagusa the recipient.
And the hosts ensured that there was not a repeat of the victory over Racing “ where the Parisians scored a late try to deny Montpellier a bonus point “ with a breakaway try after a fumble by Stade, and Martin Bustos Moyano wrapped up an impressive victory for Montpellier.
The five point win moves Montpellier above both of the capital's sides, and floundering Agen, as the fight for the play-off places really begins to heat up.
Toulon 50 “ 10 Bayonne
Toulon shrugged off strugglers Bayonne with a convincing victory in the battle of the big spenders.
A tryless first half saw Johnny Wilkinson better opposite number Benjamin Boyet five penalties to one. Bayonne had to play the final 50 minutes of the match with 14 men as Yoann Huget was sent off for a clash with Toulon centre Mathieu Bastareaud, who saw yellow for the incident.
The game came to life in the second half, with the hosts scoring five tries, with two going to former London Irish flanker Steffon Armitage. Boyet was the scorer of Bayonne's sole try, but the man advantage paid off for Toulon, with four of the five tries coming in the final 20 minutes.
The win edges Toulon ahead of Castres into third place, and the Mediterranean club are now favourites to join Toulouse and Clermont in the play-offs. Bayonne sink to the foot of the table, without a win in six and in serious trouble.
Castres 29 “ 23 Biarritz
Castres kept up the pressure on Toulon with their second victory in three games, whilst Biarritz failed to make it three in three since Dimitri Yachvili's return.
The visitors led at half-time through Benoit Guyot's try, but Castres struck two minutes into the second half through Romain Martial's converted effort.
The home side's lead lasted just seven minutes as Pelu Taele-Pavihi crossed for Biarritz's second try in a busy opening 15 minutes to the second half. Castres hit back with a Romain Teulet penalty, followed by a second try for Martial.
Yachvili and Teulet exchanged penalties to leave the scores at 26-20 with eight minutes remaining before Rory Kockott looked to have denied Biarritz even a losing point with a penalty four minutes from the end.
But Damian Traille kicked a drop-goal in the final minute to give the Basque side a losing bonus point; however it was not enough to lift them out of the relegation zone, whilst Castres move a step closer to the play-offs.
Lyon 19 “ 11 Agen
Lyon lifted themselves out of the bottom two on points-difference with victory over play-off challengers Agen on Saturday.
A converted try from Fijian number 8 Sisa Koyamaibole helped Lyon to a 10-6 lead at the break, and three second-half penalties from fullback Romain Loursac kept the visitors at bay.
Agen crossed for their only try of the game in the final minute through replacement fullback Silvere Tian to secure a losing bonus-point, but it wasn't enough to stop the visitors dropping to eighth in the league.
Brive 17 “ 9 Perpignan
Brive condemned Perpignan to a ninth defeat in eleven to leap ahead of their visitors, leaving the Catalans in deep trouble.
All of Perpignan's points came in the first twenty minutes of a fiery encounter, with fullback Jerome Porical taking over kicking responsibilities. The visitors almost went into the break in the lead, but South African Scott Spedding scored with the last play of the half to edge it 10-9 at the break.
Brive secured victory on 65 minutes with a converted try from flanker Simon Azoulai, with Julien Caminati's conversion denying Perpignan a vital bonus-point and securing Brive a first win in seven matches to take some pressure off the struggling side.
Racing Metro 13 “ 19 Toulouse
Leaders Toulouse made it five wins on the bounce, edging Racing in a tense encounter in the capital.
Toulouse took a 6-0 lead into half-time thanks to a penalty and a drop-goal from stand-off Lionel Beauxis. The French number 10 slotted a second drop-goal in the first minute of the second half before the hosts finally got on the board thanks to a penalty from Sebastian Descons.
Racing then scored the first try of the match through Italian prop Andrea Lo Cicero to give the home side the lead for the first time.
Luke McAlister “ on for the injured Beauxis “ edged Toulouse back in front with 15 minutes remaining, but Descons' second penalty cancelled out the New Zealander's kick three minutes later to put the Parisians on the verge of a huge victory.
But it was the tenacious champions who had the final say, replacement Gillian Galan scored Toulouse's only try with four minutes remaining to maintain the league leader's 100% start to 2012.
Racing drop to seventh, outside of the play-offs, but just two points separates themselves and city rivals Stade FranÃ§ais in sixth place.
Bordeaux-BÃ¨gles 10 “ 17 Clermont Auvergne
Clermont ensured that Toulouse's lead at the top of the table stayed at six points with a hard-fought victory over a plucky Bordeaux-BÃ¨gles side on Saturday evening.
Clermont's decision to rest several key players look to have backfired as Bordeaux took a narrow lead at half time. Jean-Marcel Buttin scored the opening try for Clermont after 19 minutes, but Hikairo Forbes' effort “ converted by fellow Kiwi Bruce Reihana “ gave Bordeaux a first-half lead.
Bordeaux have pulled off some impressive victories on home turf this season, but the championship challengers Clermont proved too much for the minnows, and ground down the home side in the second period.
Penalties from Brock James and David Skrella and a Skrella drop goal gave Clermont a seven point lead, whilst Bordeaux could not add to their first half haul. The home side will be happy with a losing bonus-point that keeps their hopes of sneaking a Heineken Cup spot alive, whilst Clermont consolidated second in the league as the Top 14 takes a two week break.