Steyn key as Montpellier end Clermont's home run

Dave JAMES
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Clermont's flanker Damien Chouly (2L) tries to escape the tackle from Montpellier players during the French Top 14 rugby union match ASM Clermont vs MHR Montpellier at the Michelin stadium in Clermont-Ferrand, central France, on March 12, 2017

Montpellier returned to haunt Clermont on Sunday when they condemned their French Top 14 rivals to a first home defeat in over a year with a four-try bonus-point 28-19 victory.

Jake White's Montpellier, who remain in third place and comfortably set for the play-offs, were also the last team to come away victorious from Clermont's Marcel-Michelin fortress when they won 19-15 on January 30, 2016.

Even the referee from that game, Salem Attalah, was on duty again on Sunday.

For Clermont, it was also the same old story as they suffered a second successive defeat after losing to Castres last time out and they remain in second place, eight points behind surprise leaders La Rochelle.

Montpellier were 17-6 to the good by half-time thanks to tries from Australian back Joe Tomane, Fiji winger Timoci Nagusa and Springboks hooker Bismarck du Plessis with Morgan Parra kicking Clermont's points.

The home side cut the deficit to 17-16 by the 53rd minute mark after another Parra penalty and a converted try by English winger David Strettle.

But fly-half star Francois Steyn, returning after a four-week ban for a red card picked up in the European Cup in January, popped over a penalty before full-back Benjamin Fall went over for Montpellier's fourth try and a 25-16 lead.

Parra added another penalty for Clermont before Steyn succeeded with a nerve-settling drop goal five minutes from time to ensure victory.

"We had other ingredients today than those during our defeat at Lyon last week and the one who gave us the most today is Francois Steyn," said White.

"He understands rugby, the Top 14 and he's an extremely important player for the team."

Earlier Sunday, former All Black Tom Taylor kicked fourth-placed Pau to an 18-12 win over Castres to keep their play-off hopes on track.

On Saturday, All Blacks legend Dan Carter was booed off as champions Racing 92 slumped to a 38-15 home defeat to La Rochelle.

The 35-year-old two-time World Cup winner had not played since the end of January due to a groin injury and last month was caught drink-driving in Paris.

And he suffered more misery on Saturday as the star fly-half kicked just one penalty before being hauled off to be replaced by Remi Tales just after the hour mark with whistles of impatience from his Stade Yves-du-Manoir home crowd ringing in his ears.

The loss left Racing in seventh place, six points outside the play-off places while La Rochelle stretched their lead at the top.

"We lost to a very good team but there are six games left, nothing has been decided," said Racing's backs coach Laurent Labit.

La Rochelle scored four tries, three of which came in the first half as they reached the interval with a healthy 22-8 lead.

Sixth-placed Toulon ran in 12 tries in an 82-14 mauling of Bayonne but Toulouse slipped to a 21-19 loss at Brive, pushing the 19-time French champions closer to missing the play-offs for the first time in four decades.

Stade Francais remain third from bottom after losing 35-33 at Lyon despite having led 33-17 with just 20 minutes left to play.