Toulon's Chris Ashton was too strong for Montpellier's Gabriel Ngandebe as he scored to break a French try record
Paris (France) (AFP) - Toulon’s English international winger Chris Ashton set a Top 14 record on Saturday when he scored his 22nd try of the season as the three-time European champions stunned leaders Montpellier 32-17.
The 31-year-old Ashton touched down in the seventh minute in Marseille after a pass from former All Black centre Ma’a Nonu, completing a move started by Facundo Isa and Semi Radradra.
For the last three weeks, Ashton, who left Saracens for France last summer, had been tied with Fijian Napolioni Nalaga, who scored 21 tries for Clermont in 2008-09.
Toulon scored all of their four tries in the first half with Radradra, skipper Mathieu Bastareaud and Isa adding to Ashton’s opener.
Montpellier would have wrapped up a semi-final place with victory but Vern Cotter’s side had to settle for a second-half rally with Gabriel Ngandebe and Kelian Galletier adding to centre Vincent Martin’s 34th-minute score.
Toulon, coached by former Montpellier boss Fabien Galthie, stayed comfortably on course for the play-offs with just two matches left in the regular season.
Victory came at a cost, however, with influential fly-half Francois Trinh-Duc forced off after just 11 minutes with a shoulder injury after being crunched by Montpellier prop Davit Kubriashvili who earned a yellow card for his troubles.
French international skipper Guilhem Guirado was then left the field after just 20 minutes with knee ligament damage.
“We had the game won but we’re disappointed that we didn’t get the bonus point,” said Galthie whose team are in third place.
“That might be important with still two more games to play.”
Cotter, trying to guide Montpellier to a first ever Top 14 title, took comfort from his team’s second-half recovery after trailing 29-7 at the interval.
“We showed a lot of character to get back into the match,” said the New Zealander who is familiar with Top 14 success having led Clermont to the title in 2010 during an eight-year spell in charge.
“We learnt a lot about ourselves after not starting very well, conceding two early tries and having a player yellow-carded.”
- ‘Pathetic’ Pau -
Pau’s play-off hopes suffered a setback when they slumped to a 33-22 home loss to Agen for whom Filipo Nakosi grabbed a hat-trick of tries.
“Nothing worked tonight. I didn’t recognise us at all – we were pathetic,” fumed Pau coach Simon Mannix.
Pau dropped to sixth spot – the last play-off place – after Lyon thumped Stade Francais 44-3.
Lyon ran in six tries for the bonus-point victory while Stade stay third from bottom, still not safe from relegation with just two games to play.
Lyon’s celebrations were tempered, however, when their international fly-half Baptiste Couilloud suffered what appeared to be a serious injury after a late tackle from Stade lock Alexandre Flanquart early in the second half.
Defending champions Clermont, who have no hope of making the play-offs and were knocked out of the European Cup quarter-finals by Racing 92 last month, saved a little face with a 33-3 win over Bordeaux-Begles.
Clermont scored three tries, all in the second half and all from forwards – John Ulugia, Loni Uhila and Jacobus Van Tonder.
Oyonnax downed Brive 40-17 in a dogfight between the Top 14’s bottom two sides.
On Sunday, second-placed Racing can close the gap on leaders Montpellier when they travel to fourth-placed Toulouse.
La Rochelle, who started the week in sixth, host Castres.