Montpellier captures third straight win
The in-form La Paillade moved level on points with St Etienne in fifth place thanks to two late second-half goals from Vitorino Hilton and Souleymane Camara.
With just one win in seven, defeat for Rennes meant they could find themselves as low as ninth in the Ligue 1 table come Sunday evening.
Despite an entertaining opening to the game neither side managed to create an opening until John Utaka went close on the half-hour mark.
Following a scramble in the area the ball fell at the feet of the Nigerian but his goalbound effort was turned away for a corner after a last-ditch Jean-Armel Kana-Biyik clearance.
At the other end, Mevlut Erding was picked out perfectly by Julien Feret from deep but the Turk's half-volley only found the side-netting of Geoffrey Jourdren's goal.
Erding went close for a second time with just a few minutes left of the half but his header from a Chris Mavinga cross was glanced just wide.
Montpellier went closest to breaking the deadlock on the stroke of half-time when Daniel Congre picked out Anthony Mounier in the area but the former Nice striker's acrobatic effort shaved Benoit Costil's post.
In a similar fashion to the first half, the opening exchanges following the break involved very little goalmouth action before Feret went close on the hour mark - his spectacular 25-yard volley ended up just wide of the top left corner with Jourdren clearly beaten.
Utaka flashed wide of the goal minutes later after Emmanuel Herrera failed to get on the end of an Mounier cross but both sets of players were struggling to test Jourdren and Costil respectively.
The breakthrough finally came with 15 minutes left to play. Benoit Costil flapped at a Macro Estrada free-kick and the ball eventually fell at the feet of Hilton who opened the scoring, despite Rennes' protests for a foul on the goalkeeper.
The visitors failed to offer a response and Montpellier capitalized in the 86th minute when Camara doubled their lead in some fashion. Herrera picked out the Senegalese striker and he controlled before firing a superb effort beyond Costil from the edge of the box to seal the points.