Toulon crush Oyonnax to go joint top
Toulon's fly-half Jonny Wilkinson (2ndL) is congratulated by teammates after scoring a try during a French Top 14 rugby union match against Oyonnax on March 1, 2014 at the Mayol stadium in Toulon, southeastern France - by Bertrand Langlois
English legend Jonny Wilkinson scored a rare try and finished with a personal haul of 24 points in the 64-10 victory over Oyonnax, for whom Jody Daniel Jenneker was sent off just before the break.
Earlier, a last-gasp try from Fijian wing Metuiselau Talebula denied Clermont a losing bonus point that would have kept them clear at the top as they lost 26-16 at Bordeaux-Begles.
But it was in Toulon where home fans were treated to a festival of tries.
Even before Jenneker's dismissal for a dangerous tackle on 38 minutes, Toulon were in total control, leading 31-3 after tries from Maxime Mermoz, Wilkinson, Australian Drew Mitchell and Rudi Wulf.
In the second half the one-way traffic continued as Matt Giteau got his name on the scoresheet alongside David Smith, Mitchell again, Benjamin Noirot and Mathieu Bastareaud.
The biggest surprise of the second period was a try from Oyonnax's Lucas Amorosino, although by then Toulon had already passed the 50-point barrier.
It's been a remarkable turnaround for Toulon who were outside the top six play-off picture following a third straight defeat at the end of January when they lost 23-10 at Brive.
Yet four consecutive victories later and Bernard Laporte's team are now top on merit.
Clermont were caught out by their desperate late attempts to win a match that had slowly been slipping away from them.
Trailing by just three points, they attacked form inside their own half with fly-half Brock James chipping a ball over the top of Bordeaux's backline.
Aurelien Rougerie failed to gather the bouncing ball, though, and Bordeaux struck quickly with Talebula finding a gap in the midfield to dart through and under the posts.
The 22-year-old had scored Bordeaux's first try as well to help push the club into the play-off picture, although they are eighth and two points off the top six.
Clermont, who were missing several key players such as injured Wesley Fofana and Napolioni Nalaga as well as the suspended Morgan Parra, opened the scoring in the ninth minute.
James, who had missed an earlier opportunity, slotted over a penalty at a sold out Chaban Delmas Stadium, normally the home to the Ligue 1 football club.
He then traded penalties with opposite number Pierre Bernard before Clermont created a try out of nothing.
Lee Byrne and Sitiveni Sivivatu began the counter-attack from inside their 22 and eventually Elvis Vermeulen -- in his 13th and final season with the club -- went over in the right hand corner for the five points.
James landed a brilliant conversion to make it 13-6 but Bernard reduced the deficit on the stroke of half-time with his third penalty.
The hosts went ahead six minutes into the second-half as Talebula kicked the ball between two Clermont defenders and touched down for his 11th try of the season.
Bernard converted for 16-13 before he and James traded penalties.
But it was Talebula who had the final say two minutes from time.
Racing-Metro moved into the top six after a crucial 25-15 win over reigning champions Castres, who remain fifth.
Two tries from Juan Imhoff made the difference for the Parisians, for whom coaching duo Laurent Travers and Laurent Labit were facing the team they led to the title last season.
Grenoble's play-off hopes continued to suffer as they were thrashed 31-6 at Brive, just a week after a shocking home defeat to rock-bottom Biarritz.
Grenoble are now ninth and dropping fast ahead of Toulouse's night-time clash with Perpignan.