Stade still in French Top 14 title contention

by Staff Writer

Australian coach for Stade Francais Michael Cheika says his side can still make the French Top 14 finals despite suffering a 25-9 loss to Clermont.

Meanwhile, five-time champions Biarritz remained in a relegation dogfight on Saturday after fellow strugglers Bayonne clinched a 24-19 victory.

Bayonne remain second-bottom of the table on 38 points with three games left, eight ahead of Lyon while Biarritz are fifth bottom.

South African utility-back Jacques-Louis Potgieter kicked 21 points for Bayonne with seven penalties, six of them coming in the first period with Cedric Garcia booting a second-half drop goal.

Biarritz's Fijian winger Ilikena Bolakoro grabbed the only try of the game in the 51st minute while Dmitri Yachvili kicked the conversion as well as four penalties.

At the top of the table, Clermont replaced Toulouse on points difference after their home win over George Smith's Stade had followed champions Toulouse's shock 25-10 loss at Perpignan on Friday.

Benoit Cabello scored the only try of the game for Clermont with Australian fly-half Brock James kicking 20 points.

The win was Clermont's 41st in succession at home.

"I am very happy with the spirit in our team," said Clermont coach Vern Cotter.

"The players don't want to disappoint the fans at Marcel-Michelin Stadium and these four points for victory are very important."

Cheika insists Stade, which includes former Wallaby Smith, can still make the end of season play-offs.

"I am not even thinking about not qualifying, there are still three matches to go, so we will see," he said.

Toulouse's surprise defeat to Perpignan piled on the misery for the French giants, who had also crashed out of the European Cup last weekend.

Defending champions Toulouse had been 7-6 ahead at the break at the Aime-Giral stadium after Argentine lock Patricio Albacete had crossed for a 35th-minute try.

But Welsh star James Hook then kicked four successive penalties to add to the two he had booted in the first period as Perpignan took control.

A last-minute try from fullback Joffrey Michel was the icing on the cake for the home side while Hook finished with 20 points thanks to his successful conversion.

Toulouse had been knocked out of the European Cup quarter-finals last week, losing 19-14 to Edinburgh.

Friday's loss marked the first time that Toulouse had lost consecutive European Cup and Top 14 matches since December 2009.

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