PARIS – Leaders Toulouse touched down the 10th try of the game with less than three minutes left on Sunday to edge second-placed Clermont 47-44 and clinch a place in the Top 14 playoffs.
The victory gave Toulouse an eight-point lead over Clermont in the race for top seeding. More importantly, it put them 23 points ahead of seventh-placed La Rochelle with four rounds to play.
“It's the hallmark of Toulouse to never give up,” said co-coach Regis Sonnes.
“It's important to have character when the big matches are coming thick and fast. We were a little nervous all week and that was seen early in the game.”
The earlier game was also a nail-biter as Racing 92 squeezed by Montpellier, 26-25. The result sent Racing back to fourth in the table.
Toulouse can focus on a European semi-final away to Leicester next weekend while Clermont might worry that they could lose their first-round playoff bye to Lyon, who are seven points behind.
Toulouse kicker Thomas Ramos did not miss all afternoon and the final difference was that Ramos kicked one more penalty than Clermont's Greig Laidlaw.
The home team had the lead in the 48th minute after Cheslin Kolbe turned a slip to his advantage. The winger started left, but his feet flew out from beneath him.
As the surprised Clermont defenders watched, Kolbe jumped up, cut back against the grain and skipped past five flailing tacklers to score.
Clermont responded at once. After a lineout, Tim Nanai-Williams caught the advancing home defence flatfooted with a chipped kick. Hulking Fijian flanker Peceli Yato ran on to catch the ball as the Toulouse backs kept a respectful distance.
Jerome Kaino received a yellow card for blocking the run of Wesley Fofana who, it turned out, was the wrong man.
Scot Richie Gray bulled over to give the home team a 10-point lead with 20 minutes to play. Nine minutes later, they trailed by 11. Damian Penaud finished a slick 12-pass move by touching down in the corner.
The winger completed his hat-trick when he pounced on a Toulouse fumble and raced more than half the length of the field to touch down.
Clermont's third try in seven minutes came at a price.
Toulouse again hit back with 14 men after flanker Joe Tekori was yellow-carded. Romain Ntamack sprinted round the Clermont flank to touch down in the corner. Ramos converted from the touchline and Toulouse trailed by four.
Toulouse pressed and with less than four minutes to play, Guitoune darted between two tacklers and squirmed over to put Toulouse back ahead.
Ramos converted to take his tally for the match to 22 points.
Toulouse secured the ball from the restart and clung on to win a thrilling match.
Agence France-Presse (AFP)