Weakened Clermont squander chance of top spot
Clermont fans during a match in Llanelli, west Wales, on December 14, 2013 - by Geoff Caddick
In a match played in torrential rain, the contest came down to a battle of the boot with Bayonne's Argentine kicker Martin Bustos-Moyano proving more deadly than Clermont fly-half Morgan Parra.
The result meant that Stade Francais, similarly stripped of a host of internationals in the run-up to next weekend's Six Nations kick-off, will stay top this weekend thanks to their bonus point 32-6 win over champions Castres on Friday.
Clermont are two points behind Stade while European champions Toulon can go third, and above Castres, with a win at Brive later on Saturday.
Racing-Metro kept their play-off hopes alive as they eased to a 25-5 victory over an under-strength Toulouse at the Stade de France.
Toulouse president Rene Bouscatel had described the Top 14 as "distorted" and "devalued" in midweek after the domestic programme continued despite 30 players from the Top 14 being away with the French squad.
And his mood would not have been lightened by Saturday's defeat which left his side clinging on to the sixth and final play-off spot.
Tries by Irish fly-half Jonathan Sexton, Welsh scrum-half Mike Phillips and France wing Marc Andreu secured a fine victory and a bonus point for Racing Metro.
Sexton denied it had been his best game for the club since he joined from Leinster.
"I was allowed to play that way because the forwards made ground every time they had the ball," said the 28-year-old.
"As regards the team performance, well we have won the big games this season, Toulon, Clermont and Montpellier but lost to poorer sides."
The defeat for Toulouse extended their poor run away from home in the Top 14, which has seen them fail to register a win on the road this season.
Sexton was the first to go over on Saturday as he took advantage of a dreadful attempted clearing kick by former France international fly-half Lionel Beauxis to score before converting for a 7-0 lead in the fifth minute.
Worse was to befall Toulouse in the 15th minute as Racing winger Andreu intercepted a Toulouse pass and unloaded to Sexton, who raced up the left wing and unselfishly grubber-kicked the ball into the Toulouse 22 for halfback partner Phillips to score a second try.
Sexton failed to convert but he added two penalties before the break to make it 18-0.
Toulouse showed little improvement after the break, and Racing ran in their third try in the 45th minute as the excellent Andreu went over after a superb move involving Sexton and Jamie Roberts, before the decisive break by Argentinian Juan Imhoff. Sexton converted for 25-0.
The visitors' woes deepened soon afterwards as flanker Joe Tekori was sin-binned for a late block on Sexton, who failed to land the resulting penalty.
Despite the one-man advantage for 10 minutes they were unable to add to their lead, and instead it was Toulouse who added the only score in the final 20 minutes, a last-minute try which Beauxis failed to convert.