Clermont warm up for Munster showdown with hard-fought defeat to Toulon

REIGNING FRENCH AND European champions Toulon crushed arch-rivals Clermont 27-19 to move top of the French Top 14 this afternoon.

Clermont had held a three-point advantage over Toulon going into the top-of-the-table clash at the Allianz Riviera in Nice.

But in a high-level and intense game, Toulon prevailed largely thanks to three tries — from New Zealand winger David Smith (14, 73) and Maxime Mermoz (37) — with the France centre also instrumental in two decisive passes.

The clash lived up to expectations as the champions had trouble pulling ahead of a tenacious Clermont, who scored two tries from Fritz Lee (31) and Aurelien Rougerie (60), and only caved in following the second late Smith try.

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With just one point separating the rivals at 20-19, a Steffon Armitage break, well relayed by Smith, led to the the New Zealand winger’s second try, assisted on the inside by Mermoz.

In a brisk clash, Toulon took the lead after less than a quarter-of-an-hour with a spectacular 40-metre sprint from Mermoz, serving wing Smith two metres from the line and he crossed despite pressure from Clermont’s Jean-Marcellin Buttin.

Clermont got their hand on the ball with Lee scoring a try on the half-hour mark following an action initiated by Australian centre Benson Stanley to make it 10-8.

In response, Mermoz built on good work by the forwards and a long pass from scrum-half Sebastien Tillous-Borde as Toulon lead 17-8 at half-time.

Toulon seemed to lose their way just after the break, allowing Clermont back with Stanley breaking through and Rougerie crossing for a try.

But a Nicolas Sanchez penalty and Smith’s 73rd minute try closed down the tie as Clermont were hit by the late sin-binning of Julien Bonnaire for a dangerous tackle two minutes later.

Toulon will spend the next two weeks, devoted to European Cup action, leading the Top 14.

It gives the champions a boost ahead of their European clash at Leicester, as Clermont look to bounce back against Munster.

© AFP 2014

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