Clermont resumed their customary position at the French Top 14 summit with a crushing 55-0 victory over a weakened and outclassed Bayonne on Wednesday.
In a rare midweek fixture program that means most teams will play three matches in just eight days, several sides, including Bayonne, put out virtual second-string formations.
It proved a chastening experience at the Stade Marcel Michelin, where Clermont had wrapped up a bonus point inside the first 24 minutes.
By then, South African flanker Gerhard Vosloo, New Zealand winger Sitiveni Sivivatu and fellow Fiji-born winger Noa Nakaitaci had gone over to push the hosts into a 24-0 lead.
France international Nakaitaci added a second score before the break, while Australian flyhalf Brock James was exemplary from the tee, kicking 14 points.
Things did not get any easier for Bayonne after the break as Vosloo scored twice more to complete a hat-trick, while Sivivatu crossed for his second, taking the score past the half-century mark.
“I’m obviously satisfied with this lovely win. We were especially good at the breakdown,” Clermont’s New Zealander coach Vern Cotter said.
“We managed to rotate our squad and so we’re prepared for Sunday’s trip to Paris [to face Stade Francais],” he added.
Clermont replaced Stade at the Top 14 summit as the Parisians suffered a second-half meltdown in their 38-10 defeat against reigning champions Castres.
US international Scott LaValla’s try deep into first-half overtime ensured that Stade turned around trailing just 12-10 at the break, following early tries for the hosts from Marc-Antonie Rallier and Remi Lamerat.
However, the second half turned into a massacre as Brice Mach, Lamaret again, Remy Grosso and Marcel Garvey ensured Castres took home the maximum five points thanks to the attacking bonus.
Australian center Matt Giteau scored twice and South African flanker Danie Rossouw got on the scoresheet, too, as European champions Toulon went second, a point behind Clermont, with a bonus-point victory over newly promoted Brive, who had two players sin-binned. France internationals Mathieu Bastareaud, Maxime Mermoz, Sebastien Tillous-Borde and Alexis Pallison all crossed, as well as New Zealander Rudi Wulf, as the hosts’ backs ran riot in a 62-12 victory at the Stade Mayol.
Giteau notched seven conversions and a penalty to finish with a personal haul of 27 points.
However, Toulon coach Bernard Laporte was far from happy, accusing his players of overindulgence.
“The first half was everything but a rugby match. Up against a courageous team, who we have to pay tribute to, what displeased me was our ungratefulness, the complacency,” Laporte said. “Everyone wanted to enjoy themselves rather than hurt themselves. That annoyed me profoundly.”
In the day’s late match, Racing Metro suffered a second heavy away defeat to potential title rivals within the space of 10 days.
Toulouse bounced back from their defeat at Clermont on Saturday with a 30-6 win.
Tries from Gael Fickou, Yannick Nyanga and Samoan Joe Tekori ensured Toulouse took the bonus point.
Last season’s second division champions Oyonnax continued their positive start to life in the Top 14 with a 24-22 success over last year’s European Challenge Cup winners Biarritz, leaving the Basques bottom of the table.
Silvere Tian and Antoine Tichit crossed for Oyonnax, while former France half-back Dimitri Yachvili scored 17 points for Biarritz, with US winger Takudzwa Ngwenya scoring their sole try.