AP – French Top 14 leading two teams Toulon and Clermont suffered shock defeats on Saturday just a week before they collide in the European Champions Cup final.
Defending French and Europan champions Toulon went down 32-29 at La Rochelle.
But they remain in top position after Clermont were crushed 31-10 by relegation-haunted Castres.
Australian centre Mali Hingano, who played club rugby for Manly in Sydney up until his move to France late last year, scored a try with just opver two minutes to go to give La Rochelle a thrilling win over Toulon.
The 23-year-old – one of four try scorers for the hosts – produced a delightful pivot to go over and touch down and the significance of the score was reflected in the celebrations with head coach Patrice Collazo bursting into tears.
Former Springbok international Peter Grant added the extras leaving the losers, who showed 14 changes from the starting line-up that beat Leinster in last week’s European Champions Cup semi-finals, at least the consolation of a bonus defensive point.
“It is magical, it is for these moments that we play this game,” said La Rochelle’s France international flanker Loann Goujon.
It was tough on Toulon fly-half Frederic Michalak who contributed 19 points to give himself a chance of playing in next weekend’s Twickenham final against Clermont.
La Rochelle went ahead with a splendid fourth-minute try by former NSW Waratahs winger Alofa Alofa who chipped over the Toulon defence and ran on to touch down.
Castres ran in five tries to defeat second-placed Clermont with winger Remy Grosso grabbing a hat-trick in the bonus point win.
Former All Black Sitiveni Sivivatu and prop Yannick Forestier also crossed for the 2013 champions whose margin of victory could have been greater had Rory Kockott not missed four kicks at goal.
Grosso’s second try was a gem, set up by two spectacular off-loads from Remi Lamesat and Thomas Combezou.
Second-bottom Castres have 47 points as do Bayonne while Brive and Grenoble are a point further ahead as the relegation dogfight looks destined for a thrilling conclusion.
Bayonne improved their survival hopes with a 42-33 win over Grenoble with South African-born French international fullback Scott Spedding scoring three of his team’s six tries.
Rock-bottom Lyon were effectively relegated after losing 37-22 at home to Bordeaux while Oyonnax boosted their play-off hopes with a 21-16 win over Racing Metro.
Oyonnax had stunned Clermont 11-10 last time out and on Saturday were indebted to Argentine fly-half Benjamin Urdapilleta who kicked all their points.