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Clermont stay top after 69th-straight home win

PARIS -- Clermont racked-up their 69th consecutive home win with a bonus-point 35-6 romp past rock-bottom Biarritz on Saturday to maintain their four-point lead over champions Castres and Toulon in the French Top 14.

As they had done in their recent back-to-back European Cup wins over Llanelli Scarlets, it took until the second half for Clermont to find top gear after they only led 6-3 at half-time courtesy of two penalties from Mike Delany.

But once Thierry Lacrampe, Brock James and Wesley Fofana had been summoned from the bench, Clermont pulled away with Julien Malzieu, Regan King, Gerhard Vosloo and Lacrampe all scoring tries.

Biarritz were the last team to triumph at Clermont's Marcel-Michelin stadium four years ago, but they never looked remotely like adding to that record on Saturday and they remain nine points adrift of second-bottom Bayonne.

“We could have taken our foot off the gas after our European campaign, but we responded well,” said Clermont coach Vern Cotter.

“With each game, we are playing at a higher level which is important.”

Castres are second after a 37-13 win over 2009 champions Perpignan who have now lost six games on the bounce.

The defending champions also collected a bonus point after tries from South African flanker Antonie Claassen, who crossed for a brace in the 13th and 17th minutes, fly-half Remi Tales and Fiji center Seremaia Bai.

European champions Toulon had gone top briefly earlier in the day after thrashing Montpellier 43-10, inflicting a fifth successive defeat on Fabien Galthie's out of form side.

Jonny Wilkinson gave the hosts the lead in the ninth minute with a crisply taken penalty but the animosity between the two sides threatened to boil over when Toulon's Springbok lock Bakkies Botha — who had blown a kiss at Montpellier fly-half Francois Trinh-Duc prior to the penalty — came to blows with Mamuka Gorgodze, who is set to play for Toulon next term.

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Toulouse's flanker Yannick Nyanga, of France, top, and Bordeaux's flanker Louis-Benoit Madaule, also of France, are lifted up in a line out during the French Top 14 rugby union match Toulouse against Begles-Bordeaux at the Ernest Wallon Stadium in Toulouse, southern France on Saturday, Dec. 21. (AP)

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