La Rochelle, Clermont tighten grip on crisis-hit Top 14

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Clermont's centre Aurelien Rougerie (C) speaks with teammates during the French Top 14 rugby match against Pau on March 18, 2017

La Rochelle racked up an eighth successive victory with a 36-17 stroll against Brive while Clermont condemned Pau to a nine-try 65-13 rout as the Top 14 returned to action after a week of turmoil.

Leaders La Rochelle moved to 71 points, eight ahead of Clermont as the pair stayed comfortably on course for the semi-finals.

Four of La Rochelle's five tries came in the first 40 minutes through Vincent Rattez, Eliott Roudil, Jason Eaton and Benjamin Noble for a 28-10 lead at the interval.

Mathieu Tanguy added a fifth right at the death in the second period.

"We didn't expect the bonus point," said Rattez. "Brive had a very good first 15 minutes when we couldn't lay a hand on the ball."

Clermont, now eight points ahead of third-placed Montpellier, bounced back from their first home defeat in over a year to see off Pau who remain fourth.

The result saw Clermont, defeated 28-19 by Montpellier at their Stade Marcel-Michelin home last weekend, hand Pau a first league loss since December.

Pau came into the match having won seven and drawn one of their last eight Top 14 games but they were swept aside by a Clermont attacking masterclass.

Tries by forwards Flip Van Der Merwe (17 minutes), Benjamin Kayser (22) and Raphael Chaume (27) put the home side in the driving seat within the first 30 minutes.

With Morgan Parra slotting over two penalties and two conversions, Clermont were 25-6 up by the interval.

English winger David Strettle scored a brace of tries in the 52nd and 64th minutes with Fritz Lee, Aaron Jarvis, Nick Abendanon and discarded French international full-back Scott Spedding turning the screw.

Pau scored just one try through flanker Paddy Butler before the hour.

"We found our smile in the dressing room again," said full-back Abendanon.

"We knew that we didn't play our best last week so it was important to react and we did that well."

Bottom club Bayonne defeated Bordeaux 24-20, energised by the shock revelation this week that Paris giants Stade Francais and Racing 92 will merge into one super-club.

If that goes ahead, the team finishing second bottom will likely retain their top-flight status instead of being relegated in order to keep 14 teams in the competition.

Bayonne remain bottom but are just a point behind Grenoble, who face three-time European champions Toulon on Sunday.

"The merger, well we don't know if it will be confirmed," said Bayonne's forwards coach Dewald Senekal, whose side were trounced 82-14 by Toulon last time out.

"But tonight it was gratifying to win this way. It gives me great pleasure when the guys reproduce the work that we do in training."

The controversy over the planned merger of Stade and Racing 92 took another dramatic twist Friday when their weekend matches were postponed.

Defending champions Racing were to play Montpellier while Stade's clash with Castres was postponed after Stade players continued strike action in protest at the plan to unify the two Paris clubs.