Brive hand leaders Clermont reality check
Clermont's winger Napolioni Nalaga (C) runs with the ball during a French Top 14 rugby union match agaisnt Brive on March 28, 2014 at the Amedee Domenech stadium in Brive, western France - by Diarmid Courreges
Despite the defeat, Clermont stay top of the table with a four-point lead over Toulon after grabbing the consolation of a losing bonus point.
Brive full-back Gaetan Germain finished with a personal haul of 21 points to cement his place as the championship's leading points scorer.
"We had a huge first half and we led 20-3. It was thanks to this that we went on to win the match," said Germain whose side are just two points off the top six play-off places.
"We knew they would come back at us and we hardly touched the ball in the second half. We suffered for this victory but we have 55 points now and we have edged ahead of our rivals in the table."
Clermont centre Wesley Fofana, returning to the team after being injured during the Six Nations, admitted there was work to do before next weekend when his side host Leicester in the European Cup quarter-finals.
"We came here to prepare for the European Cup as best we could and to win as easily as possible," said Fofana.
"We did the things we needed to do but it took us 70 minutes. It's a real pain. We will have to have a serious talk as we can't let this happen again next week."
Clermont were the authors of their own downfall when they slipped 10-0 down inside the first 10 minutes.
Australian-born Scottish lock Nathan Hines was yellow-carded after just three minutes for a dangerous tackle around the throat of fly-hlf Riann Swanepoel.
Germain knocked over the resulting penalty before Brive then scored their first try when Andrew Mailei released Fijian winger Elia Radikedike who sprinted away for the score.
Germain added the extras before Morgan Parra succeeded with a penalty for Clermont's only points of the first half.
Germain then hit another penalty for 13-3 which soon became 18-3 when Brive grabbed a second try.
Lock Petrus Hauman won a turnover and passed to replacement winger Alfie Mafi who dashed and shimmied half the distance of the pitch before he was held up.
But Brive kept the move alive for Germain to go over near the corner.
The full-back converted his own try for a 20-3 lead at the interval.
Brive were quickly reduced to 13 players after just seven minutes of the second half when replacement props, Georgian Goderdzi Shvelidze and South African-born Patrick Barnard were both yellow carded.
Scrums had to be uncontested as a result and Clermont were able to cut the deficit to 20-10 with Napolioni Nalaga scoring a comfortable try, converted by Parra.
Germain hit another penalty for Brive for what looked to be a comfortable 23-10 lead.
However, Clermont, having pulled off half-back pair of Parra and Brock James, grabbed a second try of the night through lock Damien Chouly, converted by Mike Delaney for 23-17.
Germain gave Brive breathing space with another penalty for 26-17 before the home side endured a nervy conclusion when Nalaga went over for Clermont's third try in the last minute which Delaney again converted.