PARIS : Toulon may have been boosted by Jonny Wilkinson's decision to sign a new deal to stay at the club until 2013 – but they were unable to hand their fans another festive present on Wednesday, going down 20-9 to Bayonne.
The loss left the southerners 11 points behind front-runners Toulouse after the latter scored a 25-8 win at Agen.
Toulon had high hopes of trimming a seven-points deficit on Toulouse after racking up four straight wins but once again Bayonne caught them on the hop, having already seen off Wilkinson's men on the opening day of the season.
Toulon were in the hunt at the break, trailing just 8-6, but thereafter their challenge fell away as three Cedric Garcia penalties and a drop goal increased the margin.
Wilkinson, who has been suffering from a shoulder injury, did send over two early penalties and Juan Martin Fernandez-Lobbe added another but Toulon were unable to improve on that as Jean-Baptiste Peyras bagged the only try of the match for the hosts after an early Benjamin Boyet penalty.
Garcia's boot did the rest as Bayonne leapfrogged their opponents into the top six.
A dismissal for Jocelino Suta midway through the opening period for dangerous play did not help Toulon's cause.
Toulouse maintained their title push after they piled up all their points in the opening period at Agen, who finally added a little respectability with a late Ueleni Fono try to add to an earlier penalty from Valentin Courrent.
Vincent Clerc claimed a 17th-minute try for Toulouse which David Skrela converted before thumping over six penalties.
Toulouse thus maintained a two-point lead over Montpellier, who edged Biarritz 22-16.
Castres are third, six points further back, after a 25-10 win over struggling La Rochelle – but Racing Metro were after that berth ahead of a late encounter at home to Brive.
Elsewhere, Stade Francais prop David Attoub, banned for 52 weeks for gouging in a European Cup match in December 2009, made a return from the replacements' bench in his side's 26-16 win at bottom club Bourgoin.
The 29-year-old Attoub was suspended for eye-gouging Stephen Ferris during Stade's 23-13 European Cup defeat to Ulster in Belfast on December 12 last year and received an initial 70-week ban from competition organisers before France's National Olympic Committee intervened and had the suspension reduced to 52 weeks.
Attoub made his return at a crucial time for the Paris giants with the club stranded in the bottom half of the table, 14 points behind leaders Toulouse.
Although that margin remains for now Stade at least got the win they largely deserved at the Stade Pierre Rajon.
Bourgoin fought gamely with late tries from Silvere Tian and Nemani Nadolo while Alberto Di Bernardo smacked over a pair of penalties.
But Sergio Parisse and Mathieu Bastareaud all but ended the contest as they went over in quick succession early in the second period for Stade and they rounded out their win with a hattrick of Julien Dupuy penalties, a pair of conversions from the same player and a Lionel Beauxis drop goal.
Even with the win Stade are still lower midtable having won seven and lost seven so far this campaign.
– AFP /ls
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