World Cup stars shine as Toulouse hammer Clermont

Illtud DAFYDD

Paris (AFP) - France's Rugby World Cup stars shone on their return to the Top 14 as champions Toulouse convincingly beat Clermont 34-8 in a re-run of last season's final on Saturday.

Les Bleus' Sofiane Guitoune, Maxime Medard, Romain Ntamack and Alivereti Raka all scored in their first appearances since the quarter-final defeat by Wales in October, as the French top flight returned after a fortnight's break.

Toulouse's Ugo Mola named five players in his starting lineup who featured at the World Cup, including Ntamack who was named World Rugby Young Player of the Year last weekend but South Africa's Cheslin Kolbe, who lifted the Webb Ellis trophy, is only expected to be back later in the month.

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"It's good to get back with Toulouse, my mates, the jersey, I could not have dreamt of a better return," Ntamack told Canal+.

"Certainly it's a great pleasure to win something individual but it's a group effort, be that with France or my club, so I owe it to them."

Clermont coach Franck Azema also welcomed back individuals who had been away at the tournament including France pair Raka and Camille Lopez, who took the place of the league's top point scorer Jake McIntyre at fly-half.

"We're disappointed, it was a slap in the face. We went missing in the contact area, in every aspect actually," Lopez told Canal+.

The home side raced into a 17-0 lead within the opening quarter of an hour as they replicated the swashbuckling play which led to lifting the title in June with two superb tries despite greasy conditions.

Centre Guitoune finished off a sublime long-range move which included a no-look pass from Yoann Huget on the halfway line and Medard scored in the corner as Thomas Ramos slotted two conversions and a penalty goal.

Despite the superb start, the best try of the half was saved for the 24-minute mark.

- Cruden's French farewell -

Australian fly-half Zack Holmes chipped over the high Clermont defence before centre Ntamack caught the ball and smoothly side-stepped two defenders with ease to slide over.

The away side's only response in the opening 40 minutes was a Morgan Parra penalty goal.

Parra was key in setting up his side's first touchdown of proceedings, feeding Lopez who off-loaded with one hand for winger Raka to go over in the corner six minutes after the break.

After Ramos slotted his second three-pointer of the game on the hour mark, substitute Gillian Galan sneaked over with a pick and go to claim the bonus point for Toulouse to guarantee only their fourth win of the season.

Earlier on Saturday, a late Anthony Belleau penalty denied ex-New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden a winning send-off in his final French league game as Toulon drew 19-19 with Montpellier.

Cruden, 30, leaves France after two seasons and will to return to former franchise the Chiefs ahead of the new Super Rugby campaign.

The 50-time All Black international was joined in the starting line-up by France World Cup squad members Louis Picamoles and Guilhem Guirado, who both retired from Test rugby after the tournament.

On Sunday, Stade Francais and Racing 92 meet in the Parisian derby with both clubs in the relegation zone.

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