Leeds Carnegie shrugged off their Premiership blues to take pole position in Pool 5 of the European Challenge Cup at Headingley on Friday.
With only one win in six Premiership games, the English club scored five tries in a 35-18 win over tough French side Castres Olympique, and with home-and-away matches against 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 (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 halftime 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 Visloo 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 5 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 tonight, 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 Gran Parma 65-6, and are the obvious threats to Worcester in Pool 2.
Finals Edition: Listen to the best guide to the European Rugby Cup Finals weekend in Dublin, which sees Leinster Rugby take on Stade Francais Paris at the RDS on Friday night in the Amlin Challenge Cup Final and then ASM Clermont Auvergne tackle Toulon in an all-French affair at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.