Leeds Carnegie shrugged off their Premiership blues to take pole position in Pool Five of the European Challenge Cup at Headingley on Friday with a 35-18 win over Castres Olympique.
With only one win in six Premiership games, the English club scored five tries in overcoming the tough French side and with home-and-away matches against minnows Calvisano and Dax to come, Stuart Lancaster's men must rate their chances of a berth in the quarter-finals.
Argentinian-born fly-half Alberto Di Bernardo opened the scoring for Leeds with a penalty goal, and scrum-half Joe Bedford bagged the game's first try as the English club won the early exchanges.
Castres' Romain Teulet, with two, and Di Bernardo traded penalty goals, before Leeds' Tongan Test hooker Viliami Ma'asi rumbled over to give his side a healthy 16-6 lead on the half-hour mark, and Andy Tuilagi's try immediately after half-time gave Leeds a match-winning lead.
Ma'asi's compatriot Lei Tomiki scored off the back of the scrum to give Castres a sniff at 23-13, but two tries in four minutes from Calum Clark and Tom Biggs gave the home side the win and a try bonus point.
Castres replacement Gerhard Vosloo crossed the line as the visitors made a last-ditch effort for a bonus point of their own, but the Leeds defence ensured that the Pool Five finishing order almost certainly depends on the teams' return match in January.
Irish club Connacht already have an uphill climb in the Challenge Cup after a tryless away loss to Brive and home and away games against Newcastle to come.
Luciano Orquera kicked four penalty goals in Brive's 15-6 victory, with Tim Donnelly and replacement Peter Durcan kicking goals in either half for the Irish visitors, who lost replacement Colm Rigney to the sin-bin in the dying minutes.
Still in France, Montauban hammered Italian side Gran Parma 65-6, and are the obvious threats to Worcester in Pool 2.
Centre Yoan Audrin and skipper and flanker Matthew Clarkin scored try doubles as the home side ran in 11 tries in front of 3,000 fans at Stade de Sapiac. New Zealand fly-half Rima Wakarua kicked both goals for Parma, who were finished off by replacement Anthony Tesquet's nine points (a try and two conversions) in the last three minutes.
In Pool Four, full-back Jean-Baptiste Peyras bagged a hat-trick of tries as Bayonne shrugged off Petrarca 37-20 at Stade Jean Dauger.
The home side secured a match-winning 27-6 lead at half-time, but Petrarca fly-half Silao Leaega made the return match interesting with a second-half try and a conversion on his way to 15 points for the match.