European champions Toulouse put up an outstanding performance on Saturday as they beat Top 14 2009 champions Perpignan 38-29 running in five tries including a brace from Clement Poitrenaud.
Their victory put them alongside Racing-Metro – who beat Bayonne 15-9 on Friday – on 32 points but ahead on points difference.
However, Montpellier’s 28-3 victory later on Saturday over Bourgoin saw them leapfrog both Toulouse and Racing-Metro by virtue of their head to head records this season.
Toulon failed to join them on 32 points after they lost 22-15 to Stade Francais.
A try by English winger Ollie Phillips, converted by Julien Dupuy, and a drop goal by Lionel Beauxis in the last 10 minutes got them the points at the Stade de France.
Stade owner Max Guazzini, who has broadened the audience for rugby in the capital with his pre-match shows, opted for an even more extravagant pre-kick-off display than usual as a beautiful barechested female model emerged from above a cage holding a leopard with the match ball in her hand.
Perpignan established an early supremacy against Toulouse racing into a 13-0 lead thanks largely to a try by David Mele.
David Skrela got Toulouse on the board in the 26th minute with a penalty and the game seemed to swing back to the hosts as Fijian centre Vilimoni Delesau touched down from a well worked move.
Toulouse added a second try two minutes from the break with a superb effort by Poitrenaud which was successfully converted to see Perpignan take a 16-15 lead in at the break.
The hosts came out off the blocks raring to go in the second-half and Byron Kelleher scored a brilliant try bursting from behind the scrum and shrugging off two attempted tackles by Vincent Candelon and Gerrie Britz to touch down.
Perpignan coach Jacques Brunel said that try had really changed the momentum of the match.
“That was the first turning point of the game, at the beginning of the second-half and Kelleher’s try. That cost us dear,” he said.
Toulouse backs coach Jean-Baptiste Elissalde also credited Kelleher with turning the tide of the game.
“We had a difficult beginning. But the try out of the blue by Kelleher did us the world of the good. It is not something we work on at training and is really an individual exploit,” said Elissalde, who bemoaned the lack of discipline by the team.
“The team was in good spirits and nobody shied away from the job in hand when we were under pressure in the first-half.
“We kept on building move. The black mark, though, was our indiscipline which cost us lots of points.”
Perpignan’s hopes of coming out on top disappeared in the 65th minute when Adrien Plante was sin-binned and then William Servat crashed over for their fourth try – his fifth of the season – guaranteeing them an offensive bonus point.
Poitrenaud grabbed his second try of the game shortly afterwards breaking through some timid Perpignan defending and Skrela landed the covnersion to make it 38-22.
Defending champions Clermont suffered their fifth defeat of the season as they lost 16-13 to Biarritz.
Clermont – who at least took a defensive bonus point – had the upper hand initially taking a 10-3 lead thanks to Sione Lauaki’s try and five points from the boot of Butch James.
However, the game turned in 10 minutes of the second-half as first Clermont’s Davit Zirakashvili was sinbinned in the 51st minute and their French scrum-half Morgan Parra was also yellow-carded eight minutes later for his deliberate knock-on as he returned to the pitch after treatment.
A minute later Biarritz took the lead for the first time as Ilikena Bolakoro went over and Dimitri Yachvili converted for 16-10 and Clermont’s sole reply came from a penalty by Anthony Floch.