PARIS: Montpellier coasted to a nine-try bonus point 61-22 thrashing of rock bottom Bayonne in the French Top 14 on Sunday that kept alive their hopes of a top two finish.
Jake White’s team are now just four points behind second-placed Clermont but with a game in hand. If they beat Racing 92 next weekend, while Clermont are in European Champions Cup action against Leinster, Montpellier will go second with two matches to play.
The top two sides in the French league get a bye straight into the play-off semi-finals in Marseille, with the next four teams taking part in an extra round.
This match was over as a meaningful contest long before half-time as Australia wing Joe Tomane scored a hat-trick of tries, with South Africa centre Francois Steyn, Fiji wing Timoci Nagusa and French flanker Antonie Battut also going over for scores.
South African fly-half Willie Du Plessis kicked five of six conversions against his former club as the hosts led 40-8 at the break.
Bayonne were first on the scoresheet in the second half with Martin Laveau adding to a late first-period try by Julien Jane.
But normal service resumed as Steyn scored a second try, Fiji flanker Akapusi Qera went over and Du Plessis also crossed, adding three more conversions too to finish with a personal haul of 21 points.
Tongan Toma Taufa had the final say with Bayonne’s third try but it offered scant consolation for a team that already knows it will be playing second-division rugby next season.
On Saturday, Lyon ended La Rochelle’s five-month unbeaten run in an entertaining 29-25 victory that featured eight tries and denied the visitors a new championship record of 12 matches without loss.
La Rochelle had led 18-17 with 10 minutes to play but a pair of tries from Argentine flanker Facunda Isa turned the game on its head.
La Rochelle still lead by 10 points from Clermont and the losing bonus point means they need only one more point to secure a top two finish, although their last two matches are against the two sides still capable of finishing above them.
Clermont romped to a nine-try 59-18 victory at Grenoble that condemned the hosts to relegation alongside Bayonne.
Eight Clermont players crossed the whitewash in a mesmerising performance that leaves the Vulcans in confident mood for next week’s clash with Leinster in Lyon.
Richard Cockerill made it two wins from two as Toulon interim head coach as Castres were beaten 23-14, leaving the three-time European champions on the brink of securing a play-off spot.
Toulon in fourth are now seven points ahead of Stade Francais in fifth and likely need only one win from their final two matches to ensure not only a play-off berth but a home quarter-final.
Lyon’s victory left seven teams – half the league – separated by a single point in an incredibly congested battle for the last two play-off places.
Also on Saturday, Stade Francais thumped Pau 51-16 and Bordeaux-Begles won 22-19 at Brive – all four of those bunched in that group of seven. --AFP