Toulon bounce back in French rugby

Toulon’s Australian connection of Matt Giteau, Drew Mitchell and James O’Connor helped the French rugby heavyweights to a 35-9 win over Top 14 leaders Clermont.

Coming into the match on the back of a stuttering start to the season in which they began the day in the bottom half of the table, Toulon were at their best in dispatching the hosts.

With Quade Cooper left out of the Toulon squad, Giteau started at five-eighth while Mitchell and O’Connor played on the wings as a strangely subdued Clermont suffered a rare home defeat.

The bonus-point victory moved Toulon to third on the ladder and two points from the leaders.

The visitors turned on the style in the first 40 minutes, scoring tries through Delon Armitage and scrum-half Eric Escande.

Brilliant handling between second row Samu Manoa and centre Mathieu Bastareaud set up Armitage to run in from the left on 16 minutes, replying to Morgan Parra’s early penalty for the hosts.

Parra and Armitage exchanged penalties before the European champions struck again.

The second try came on 36 minutes as Escande took the ball from the back of a maul and attacked down the blindside, chipping ahead for Mitchell to collect and pass back inside for the halfback to scamper over.

He missed the conversion, however, while Armitage was well wide with a long-range penalty attempt as Toulon went in at the break with a 15-6 lead that didn’t tell the full story of their domination.

But two more Escande penalties after Parra had landed his third extended the lead before Clermont’s replacement flanker Julien Bardy was sin-binned for coming in at the side with Toulon attacking the line.

Toulon kicked to touch and as they tried to drive over a rolling maul, Clermont infringed and referee Mathieu Raynal ran under the posts to award a penalty try.

And after the final hooter, replacement Steffon Armitage stole breakdown ball and sent Mitchell running in from long range to net the fourth try under the posts, adding insult to injury.

Earlier, New Zealand star Dan Carter was presented to his adoring new fans before Racing 92 gave their latest recruit something to cheer in beating Toulouse 28-13.

“With this unusual end of the week in which every conversation subject turned to Dan Carter’s arrival, we wondered whether the group, who were excited, would be perturbed or by contrast invigorated,” said Racing’s backs coach Laurent Labit as his side moved up to second, a point behind Clermont.

In other games, 1997 European champions Brive moved to fourth with an impressive bonus-point 34-9 victory at Oyonnax, who dropped to the bottom of the table.

Agen moved off the bottom despite losing 23-18 at home to 2013 champions Castres as that was enough to pick up a losing bonus point.

Scrum-half Yann Lesgourgues scored four tries as Bordeaux-Begles got six in total in thrashing second division champions Pau 46-10.

Champions Stade Francais travel to Grenoble on Sunday in the final game of the weekend.

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