Montpellier rally against Biarritz in Top 14 as tributes paid to Aramburu
On an emotional afternoon, bottom club Biarritz started furiously against Top 14 leaders Montpellier but could not sustain their energy and lost 37-22.
As the funeral for murdered former player Federico Aramburu was taking place back in Biarritz, the team with which he won two French titles took the field in Montpellier wearing t-shirts bearing his photo.
Biarritz took a quick lead when winger David O'Callaghan crossed after five minutes.
That marked the start of a five-try first half. With lock Paul Willemse and winger Gabriel N'Gandebe scoring for the hosts and hooker Lucas Peyresblanques and finally winger Mathieu Hirigoyen for the visitors, who led 22-14 at the break.
Willemse added a second try in the 49th minute. Louis Foursans converted and then kicked a penalty to put Montpellier ahead for the first time. Foursans booted two more penalties before converting a late try by Kelian Galletier.
Montpellier cemented their grip on top spot ahead of second-placed Bordeaux-Begles' visit to Stade Francais in the evening.
Biarritz remain anchored to the bottom of the table, 10 points behind Perpignan who lost 27-22 at Pau.
The match in Pau was not as close as the final score suggested. The hosts led comfortably through three tries by Jordan Joseph before Piula Fa'asalele and Genesis Mamea Lemalu salvaged some pride for Perpignan with tries in the last 10 minutes.
La Rochelle shut out visiting Racing 19-0 to jump from seventh to third and shove the Parisians down to seventh and out of the playoff spots.
Ihaia West kicked the home team to a 12-point lead before Thomas Berjon crowned the victory with a last-minute try that another second-half replacement Pierre Popelin converted.
In the early match, Toulon edged Clermont 32-22 to keep alive their chances of qualifying for the playoffs.
Toulon have surged off the bottom of the table with five wins in seven games and climbed to ninth in the standings, seven points off the final post-season berth.
The two members of France's Six Nations Grand Slam winning team, Gabin Villiere and Jean-Baptiste Gros, returned enthusiastically to their day jobs.
Toulon scored four tries and raced to a 20-point lead before Clermont struck back with two tries in the last 20 minutes.
"We must take advantage of this positive spiral," said Toulon coach Franck Azema.
"Three or four weeks ago, we were in a relegation zone and everyone continued to work, without losing focus or giving up, and that makes me happy."