Clermont lay down a marker

Date published: August 22 2015

Clermont cruised to an opening round victory as they crushed La Rochelle 44-6 at Stade Marcel Deflandre to go top of the Top 14.

Last year's runners-up were without a number of internationals, and forced to play academy scrum-half Enzo Sanga, but they dominated from the off, running in five tries in total.

Second-row Paul Jedrasiak was outstanding for Clermont, scoring the first try and getting involved at every opportunity, while English duo Nick Abendanon and David Strettle also crossed, the latter on debut. Julien Bardy scored their fourth try with another youngster, Arthur Iturria, grabbing the fifth late on.

The visitors were first on the board thanks to an early Camille Lopez penalty, after La Rochelle had been under pressure on their own line.

And it was Clermont who scored the first try of the game after a magnificent counter-attack. After a long period of possession in the Clermont 22, Kevin Gourdon knocked on and the visitors reacted immediately. Lopez scooped the ball up and it was quickly spread to the wing where Abendanon got away. The covering defence got back to slow him down, but he found lock Jedrasiak inside to finish off the 90-metre score. With Lopez's conversion, Clermont led 10-0.

It was a touch harsh on La Rochelle, who had seemed to be in the ascendancy, but they quickly came back and got off the mark thanks to a penalty from Zack Holmes after a high tackle from Fritz Lee.

Clermont were looking much more clinical though, and they ran in their second try on the half-hour following a great run initially by new man Strettle. Aurélien Rougerie was next to make ground and when the ball was recycled quickly, Lopez found Abendanon who waltzed through a gap and over. Lopez converted to make it 17-3 to the visitors.

That was how it remained until the break, but La Rochelle were quickest out of the blocks in the second half, with a second penalty for Holmes after a high tackle from Jedrasiak.

However it didn't slow Clermont down for long and they took complete control with two tries in as many minutes. First Strettle went over after some quick hands from Rougerie, and Julien Bardy soon followed after a scorching charge from Jedrasiak followed by Alexandre Lapandry breaking through and feeding his back-row partner.

Lopez converted both, and Clermont looked like they had a fifth try when Abendanon crossed again, but this one was ruled out for a forward pass by Rougerie to send the full-back over.

It mattered little though, with the home crowd getting fractious at seeing their team outplayed at home, having lost just once at Marcel Deflandre in the league last season.

The tension seemed to transfer onto the pitch, and Clermont lost young scrum-half Sanga to a yellow card for a tackle off the ball soon followed by Jone Qovu for a stamp on Benson Stanley.

Lopez, who had already slotted a drop-goal, added another penalty to stretch the lead out to 37-6 to Clermont with 15 minutes remaining.

In the closing stages Clermont were over again, replacement second-row Iturria, one of seven home grown forwards to finish the game for the visitors, powered over, showing a lot of strength to score from out wide. Lopez, after a poor end to last season which saw him miss out on France's World Cup squad, completed a fantastic display with a touchline conversion.

The scorers:

For La Rochelle:
Holmes 2
Yellow Card: Qovu

For Clermont:
Jedrasiak, Abendanon, Strettle, Bardy, Iturria
Cons: Lopez 5
Pens: Lopez 2
Drop Goal: Lopez
Yellow Card: Sanga 

La Rochelle: 15 Charles Bouldoire, 14 Gabriel Lacroix, 13 Eliott Roudil, 12 Mali Hingano, 11 David Raikuna, 10 Zack Holmes, 9 Enrico Januarie, 8 Kevin Gourdon, 7 Romain Sazy, 6 Jason Eaton, 5 Leandro Cedaro, 4 Romana Graham, 3 Lekso Kaulashvili, 2 David Roumieu, 1 Mike Corbel.
Replacements: 16 Hikairo Forbes, 17 Vincent Pelo, 18 Jone Quvo, 19 Zeno Kieft, 20 Jules le Bail, 21 Fabien Fortassin, 22 Benjamin Lapeyre, 23 Maxime Gau.

Clermont: 15 Nick Abendanon, 14 David Strettle, 13 Aurélien Rougerie, 12 Benson Stanley, 11 Adrien Planté, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Enzo Sanga, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Alexandre Lapandry, 6 Camille Gerondeau, 5 Loic Jacquet, 4 Paul Jedrasiak, 3 Clément Ric, 2 Iuri Natriashvili, 1 Thomas Domingo.
Replacements: 16 Pierre Rude, 17 Raphaël Chaume, 18 Daniel Kotze, 19 Arthur Iturria, 20 Julien Bardy, 21 Charlie Cassang, 22 Patricio Fernandez, 23 Hosea Gear.

Venue: Stade Marcel Deflandre
Referee: Alexandre Ruiz