A pulsating performance by Clermont has taken the French into pole position in the Heineken Cup Pool Three with a 40-30 win.
A pulsating performance by Clermont has taken the French into pole position in the Heineken Cup Pool Three with a 40-30 win in a marvellous rugby match.
Once again, all the gloom merchants proclaiming the death of rugby under the current laws were given a timely reminder that when two teams really want to and really get their execution right, running rugby can produce a hatful of tries and points.
Leicester, down and out with twelve minutes to go at 35-9, rallied as the Auvergnats once again displayed an alarming propensity to switch off with the game only half-won and came within a whisker of snatching two bonus points in the final second. It might not have been entirely deserved on the run of the game, but the French would only have had themselves to blame.
With the clock over eighty minutes, Anthony Floch inexplicably dropped a pass back to him near the Leicester 22 and then conceded a penalty trying to recover the ball. Ben Youngs took it quickly and then hacked ahead downfield. The bounce evaded Napolioni Nalaga, it evaded Toby Flood, it evaded two others as it bobbled around the Clermont tryline. Eventually Jamie Cudmore slid in soccer-style to nudge it over the dead-ball line and rob Leicester of their possible plunder. In a game that should have been long dead, it was a frantic finish – the television commentator to my right audibly screamed 'what planet are we on?' as the final whistle blew. Nobody really knew by then.
Clermont turned up the heat on a freezing afternoon marked by falling snow, scoring tries through wing Napolini Nalaga (two), flanker Alexandre Lapandry, scrum-half Morgan Parra and lock Jamie Cudmore.
Fly-half Brock James kicked 12 points and full-back Anthony Floch dropped a goal, while Leicester conjured three tries during the closing 10 minutes and three Flood penalties.
Leicester now have no choice but to win next weekend and win well. They have only failed to secure last-eight status once during the past five seasons, but the pressure has now been piled on them, as they lie three points behind both the ospreys and Clermont, both of whom must still visit Welford Road.
Brock James and Toby Flood exchanged penalties during a lively opening, yet Leicester's blindside defence was quickly exposed as Clermont struck through a brilliantly-executed attack.
Julien Malzieu broke at pace down the left, before highly-rated flanker Alex Lapandry gathered Malzieu's off-load, and then linked superbly with Floch before crossing unopposed.
James added the conversion, giving Leicester an early reminder of what they were up against as Clermont dominated possession and looked to move it wide at every opportunity.
Flood booted a second penalty but then the hulking Fijian Nalaga, a hero in these parts, roamed off his wing in midfield and made no mistake when the chance finally arose as he smashed through a weak tackle by Tigers' New Zealand centre Aaron Mauger and cantered home. James converted to give Clermont a 17-6 lead.
Flood completed his penalty hat-trick 10 minutes before the break, just about keeping Leicester in contention, but that three-pointer was rapidly cancelled out by a Floch drop-goal and Clermont deservedly added a third try on the stroke of half-time.
Nalaga was again Leicester's tormentor, rounding off a superb spell of pressure and off-loading, and Tigers could have no complaints about an alarming 25-9 interval scoreline.
James landed his second penalty five minutes into the second half and then Morgan Parra capitalised on an error down the blindside and scampered hom for a bonus point try greeted with a huge roar from the home fans.
At 35-9 Clermont were cruising, but you don't do that sort of thing against Leicester and the final 15 minutes left all breathless.
First Anthony Allen broke to score a try for Leicester that looked little more than consolation, but when Flood rounded off a move started by a sublime chip and chase from Lote Tuqiri, leicester were suddenly within reach of a bonus point at 35-23.
Scrum-half Kevin Senio's break and the eventual final yards added by Jamie Cudmore took Clermont out further in front again, but no sooner had James missed what would have been a comforting conversion than leicester were once again in sight.
This time a midfield fumble was scooped up by Flood and passed – some inches forward – to Jeremy Staunton who raced home. Flood converted. 40-30.
Then came that extraordinary finale – served up after we had seen four tries in eight minutes and eight over the eighty. What do you have to say to that, all those who say running rugby is dead? Sorry? We can't hear you…
Man of the match: So hard to pick one from a host of excellent displays, but as we have so often made him the villain, we'll opt for Jamie Cudmore. Not a hint of that old indiscipline this time, just huge graft and a memorable clinching try.
Tries: Lapandry, Nalaga 2, Parra, Cudmore
Cons: James 3
Pens: James 2
Drop goal: Floch
Tries: Allen, Flood, Staunton
Cons: Flood 3Pens: Flood 3
Clermont Auvergne: 15 Anthony Floch (capt), 14 Julien Malzieu, 13 Aurelien Rougerie, 12 Gonzalo Canale, 11 Napolioni Nalaga, 10 Brock James, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Julien Bonnaire, 7 Alexandre Lapadry, 6 Jason White, 5 Thibaut Privat, 4 Jamie Cudmore, 3 Martin Scelzo, 2 Mario Ledesma, 1 Thomas Domingo.
Replacements: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Lionel Faure, 18 Davit Zirakishvili, 19 Julien Pierre, 20 Elvis Vermeulen, 21 Kevin Senio, 22 Tasesa Lavea, 23 Gavin Williams.
Leicester: 15 Scott Hamilton, 14 Lore Tuqiri, 13 Anthony Allen, 12 Aaron Mauger, 11 Alesana Tuilagi, 10 Toby Flood, 9 James Grindal, 8 Jordan Crane, 7 Lewis Moody, 6 Craig Newby, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Louis Deacon (capt), 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Mefin Davies, 1 Boris Stankovich.
Replacements: 16 George Chuter, 17 Marcos Ayerza, 18 Dan Cole, 19 Ben Kay, 20 Brett Deacon, 21 Ben Youngs, 22 Jeremy Staunton, 23 Johne Murphy.
Referee: Alan Lewis (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Simon McDowell (Ireland), Jude Quinn (Ireland)
Television match official: Brian Fitzgerald (Ireland)