Toulouse, Clermont Auvergne and Toulon edged closer towards confirming their play-off status with victories as the 17th round of the Top 14 was affected by the cold snap that saw the France versus Ireland match postponed this weekend. Elsewhere Bayonne secured a vital victory against Stade FranÃ§ais, and Perpignan succumbed to an eleventh defeat of the season to leave them teetering on the edge of relegation.
Montpellier 22 “ 11 Perpignan
Montpellier condemned beleaguered Perpignan to a 10th defeat in their last twelve outings with a comfortable victory at the Stade Yves du Manoir on Friday night.
The hosts led at half time, with tries coming from Alex Tulou and Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino and Martin Bustos Moyano adding a penalty. South African Rudi Coetzee responded for Perpignan with a penalty from Jerome Porical making it 15-8 at the break.
It was the visitors that scored first in the second period, with Porical adding a second penalty but it was to be Perpignan's final points of the game. Mammoth back-rower Mamuka Gorgodze went over on the hour for Montpellier, but the home side couldn't find the extra try to secure a bonus point victory.
Montpellier's fourth victory on the bounce moves the side clear of the two Parisian clubs and in their current form last season's finalists look like making it into the play-offs for the second time in two years. 2009 champions Perpignan now sit just two points above the relegation places with no sign of their form turning around.
Biarritz 15 “ 20 Toulouse
Biarritz recovered from 17-3 down at half time to salvage a losing bonus point against the juggernaut that is league leaders Toulouse.
Biarritz have now lost eight of their last nine games that Dimitri Yachvili hasn't played in, and even against a heavily depleted Toulouse side they were unable to secure victory.
Toulouse dominated the opening exchanges, and ran in three tries in the first half hour through Luke Burgess, Timoci Matanavou and Yves Donguy. With no Yachvili, Benoit Baby assumed kicking responsibilities, scoring Biarritz's only points of the opening period with a 22nd minute penalty.
The opening 10 minutes of the second half saw Baby and Luke McAlister exchange penalties, and with 20 minutes to go Toulouse led 20-9. The visitors handed Biarritz a golden opportunity though their indiscipline with Yannick Nyanga and Sylvain Nicholas both sin binned in the final quarter, which saw Toulouse down to 14 men for the remaining 20 minutes.
Baby added a fourth penalty, and with 12 minutes to go Damien Traille put Biarritz within a score with a drop goal. However Biarritz couldn't make the extra man advantage count and Toulouse held on, securing the try bonus-point in the process.
Bayonne 26 “ 20 Stade FranÃ§ais
Bayonne's first victory in seven games moved them off the foot of the table and out of the relegation zone as Stade FranÃ§ais fell to a third defeat in four games.
A low scoring first half saw penalties from Jacques Potgieter and Cedric Garcia kick penalties for Bayonne either side of a Martin Rodriguez effort. Half an hour in and both sides saw yellow. First Stade number eight David Lyons was sin-binned, before Stade were reduced to 13 men and Bayonne 14, as Rodrigo Roncero for Stade and Bayonne's Renaud Boyoud were yellow carded when both sides were penalised in the scrum.
The extra space on the field failed to give either side enough of an edge to score as the first half ended 6-3 to the hosts.
After the tryless first half, Bayonne more than made up for their lack of scoring with a brisk two tries in the first three minutes of the second period. First centre Lionel Mazars and then Moroccan lock Abdellatif Boutaty crossed to swing the game heavily in Bayonne's favour at 20-3.
But before the hour was up, Stade were back into the game with a brace from English wing Paul Sackey. Rodriguez added the extras to leave the game delicately balanced at 20-17 with 20 minutes remaining.
However two more penalties from Bayonne scrum half Garcia “ in for Mike Phillips “ took the game away from the Parisians. Rodriguez kicked a second penalty with two minutes remaining to keep Stade's hopes alive. Bayonne held on, but Rodriguez's late kick ensured that Stade would leave with a bonus-point, extending their gap over their local rivals Racing for the final play-off place.
Toulon 44 “ 7 Bordeaux-BÃ¨gles
Toulon ran in five tries against Bordeaux-BÃ¨gles to stretch their advantage over fourth-placed Castres to six points.
The ever-reliant Johnny Wilkinson kicked three first half penalties, and converted Joe van Niekerk and Sebastian Tillous-Borde's tries to give the hosts a 23-0 half time lead.
Bordeaux got on the score sheet after 52 minutes through wing Vungakoto Lilo with Gerard Frazer converting.
After a fruitful first half, Toulon took 30 second half minutes to add to their total. After replacement prop Ole Avei was sin-binned with just over ten minutes remaining, Toulon turned the screw with a pair of tries from Welshman Eifion Lewis-Roberts and fellow replacement Adam Rooney making it five with the final play of the game.
Bordeaux are still to put together back-to-back victories in their first top-flight season, but despite Saturday's heavy loss, they remain in a fairly comfortable mid-table spot.
Clermont Auvergne 31 “ 13 Racing Metro
Clermont strolled to victory against Racing Metro on Saturday to keep the pressure on Toulouse at the top.
Youngster Jean-Marcel Buttin opened the scoring for Clermont for the second time in two games, touching down with just two minutes on the board. Noa Nakaitaci and Brent Russell scored before the break with Racing managing a sole first half penalty through Juan Martin Hernandez.
The Argentine added a second penalty soon after half time, before David Skrela “who converted all three of his side's first half tries “ cancelled out Hernandez's second half score.
South African Flanker Gerhard Vosloo made sure Clermont would take a try bonus-point with his side's fourth try with four minutes remaining, before Racing picked up a last minute consolation try through FranÃ§ois Steyn, with Hernandez converting.
Clermont ensure that they again matched Toulouse to keep within reach of the leaders, while Racing are now seven points adrift of the play-off places, and just a point ahead of eighth and ninth placed Agen and Bordeaux.