Clermont were pushed all the way as they got their season off to a winning start with a 30-26 success over Grenoble at home.
Clermont were pushed all the way as they got their season off to a winning start with a 30-26 win over Grenoble at home.
They had lost their 77-match unbeaten record at the end of last season, falling to Castres in the Top 14 play-offs and this game marked the first in charge for new boss Franck Azema.
However Clermont had impressed during the pre-season, and they looked ominous early on with quick tries from Clement Ric and Damien Chouly.
But Grenoble worked their way back into the game, and Alipate Ratini and Fabien Gengenbacher crossed either side of a Julien Bardy score as the visitors trailed 24-20 at the break.
The second half was much tighter, with Jonathan Wisniewski and Brock James adding two penalties apiece as Clermont hung on for a hard-fought win.
Clermont made a flying start with a try after just 7 minutes when Ric crashed over. Julien Malzieu had initially made headway down the left, and when the ball was recycled quickly, Ric was too powerful and drove through two tackles to score. Brock James made no mistake with the conversion.
It was the perfect start to the campaign for AzÃ©ma's team and things got even better a few minutes later when new skipper Chouly scored their second try.
Again there was space on the left for Malzieu who had the Grenoble defence scrambling, and this time the ball came back to James, who had spotted Chouly on his own on the right wing. The Australian fly-half produced a perfectly judged cross-kick and after a kind bounce, Chouly dotted down. James conversion made it 14-0.
Grenoble responded well with their first incursion into the Clermont 22, earning a penalty that new man Jonathan Wisniewski slotted to get them on the board.
Having been under huge pressure up until that point, Grenoble seemed to take heart from that score, and after 20 minutes they scored a stunning counter-attacking try.
Wisniewski made a half-break initially before Arnaud Heguy and Henry Vanderglas carried the ball on, with the Australian flanker then sending Ratini clear on the right, and the Fijian had the speed to dive over. Wisniewski's conversion made it 14-10.
During that time Clermont lost their second player of the game, Noa Nakaitaci being forced off, following Ric who had also picking up a knock, with Wesley Fofana coming on in midfield.
Clermont reacted with another break from Fritz Lee which led to a Grenoble offside, James slotted the simple penalty to stretch the lead back to seven points.
Former Racing man Wisniewski should have added his second penalty of the afternoon but his effort drifted wide, however on the half-hour he readjusted and brought the score back to 17-13.
Still, Clermont looked the more dangerous of the two teams, and they added a third try before the break, producing quick ball to stretch the Grenoble defence.
Eventually it was Aurelien Rougerie who slipped an inside ball to Bardy, and the Portuguese flanker had enough strength to fight his way over. James' tricky conversion made it 24-13.
Grenoble's response came immediately however, thanks to some great work from Nigel Hunt. The Kiwi centre showed quick feet to skip away from the tackle of Ludovic Radosavljevic before finding skipper Gengenbacher for the simplest of finishes.
That was how it remained until the break, and it was Grenoble who had the first chance of points in the second half, Wisniewski's penalty drifting wide.
Soon after Clermont thought they had their fourth try when Malzieu went over after a great break from Lee, but it was brought back for an obstruction by Rougerie in the build-up.
And Grenoble were back within a point when Wisniewski slotted his third penalty of the afternoon following a side entry from Chouly.
Clermont needed to score next, and they did so when Grenoble were caught slowing the ball down in a ruck, and James made no mistake.
The pace had slowed in comparison with the first half, and with less than quarter of an hour remaining, Grenoble got back to within a point after another Wisniewski penalty.
Soon after Clermont went over once more, but for the second time it was called back, as Bardy was penalised for getting back up having been tackled.
James missed his first kick of the afternoon soon after, but he was back in target with five minutes remaining to give Clermont a little breathing space and they managed to hang on.â€ƒ
Tries: Ric, Chouly, Bardy
Cons: James 3
Pens: James 2
Tries: Ratini, Gengenbacher
Cons: Wisniewski 2
Pens: Wisniewski 4
Clermont: 15 Nick Abendanon, 14 Zac Guildford, 13 Aurelien Rougerie, 12 Noa Nakaitaci, 11 Julien Malzieu, 10 Brock James, 9 Ludovic Radosavljevic, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Julien Bardy, 6 Damien Chouly (c), 5 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 4 Jamie Cudmore, 3 Clement Ric, 2 Ti'i Paulo, 1 Vincent Debaty.
Replacements: 16 John Ulugia, 17 Raphael Chaume, 18 Loic Jacquet, 19 Julien Bonnaire, 20 Morgan Parra, 21 Camille Lopez, 22 Wesley Fofana, 23 Daniel Kotze.
Grenoble: 15 Fabien Gengenbacher (c), 14 Alipate Ratini, 13 Jackson Willison, 12 Nigel Hunt, 11 Gio Aplon, 10 Jonathan Wisniewski, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Rory Grice, 7 Henry Vanderglas, 6 Fabien Alexandre, 5 Ben Hand, 4 Hendrik Roodt, 3 Dayna Edwards, 2 Arnaud HÃ©guy, 1 Alexandre Dardet.
Replacements: 16 Albertus Buckle, 17 Anthony Hegarty, 18 Richard Choirat, 19 Ross Skeate, 20 Florian Faure, 21 Joannes Henry, 22 Julien Caminati, 23 Benjamin ThiÃ©ry.
Referee: Cyril Lafon
Assistant referees: Adrien Descottes, Bruno Gabaldon