Clermont set up showdown with Sarries

Date published: January 17 2015

Clermont moved back to the top of European Champions Cup Pool 1 thanks to a hard-fought 22-13 victory over Sale Sharks in Salford on Saturday.

The results means that the French club are one point ahead of Saracens, whom they host next week with the winners set to finish top of the pool and qualify automatically for the quarter-finals.

Sale defended doggedly in the opening 40 periods as they looked to gain the upper hand, though they found themselves three points down at the break after Camille Lopez outkicked Danny Cipriani by two penalties to one.

The second half was far more open, and a penalty try for the Sharks gave them the belief that they could go onto record victory.

However, it wasn’t to be, and a late try from Fritz Lee condemned Sale to five defeats from five.

The first half was a very tepid affair, with Clermont on top for large periods, though they failed to break down some early Sale resilience.

Will Addison’s tackle seven minutes in held up the French side as they looked like going over, but the longer the tie went on, the more the hosts grew into the game.

Lopez began the scoring with a penalty, but Cipriani levelled with three points of his own.

Cipriani failed with his next effort as he fired wide, but Lopez put another kick through four minutes before half-time to give table-topping Clermont a narrow lead at the break.

Coming out for the second half, and Sale hopes of getting their first win of the campaign were significantly raised after Wesley Fofana was penalised for a tip-tackle, to give the Sharks a man advantage.

They did make Fofana pay for his foul six minutes later, and threatened victory when the game’s first try came.

After kicking towards the corner, the home side were awarded a penalty try after a powerful rolling maul. To rub salt into Clermont’s wounds, Jamie Cudmore was sin-binned as the visitors were reduced to 13 men.

Despite that, the lead didn’t last, and Lopez sent through six points within four minutes of each other to restore the advantage.

Another penalty from Cipriani put Sale one point ahead with 15 minutes still to play.

However, a Lopez penalty after a huge Clermont scrum gave the visitors a lead they would not relinquish and any dreams of a first victory were completely eradicated with four minutes remaining thanks to Lee’s try.

The huge Samoan powered his way through bodies, and the TMO awarded him the try. Lopez’s conversion made it a nine-point game, and the visitors calmly saw out the final seconds.

That leaves them with a winner-takes-all clash at home to Saracens next week, with a potential home quarter-final also there for the taking for the winners.

The scorers:

For Sale:
Try: Penalty try
Con: Cipriani
Pens: Cipriani 2

For Clermont:
Try: Lee
Con: Lopez
Pens: Lopez 5
Yellow cards: Fofana, Cudmore

Sale: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Will Addison, 13 Jonny Leota, 12 Sammy Tuitupou, 11 Mark Cueto, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Chris Cusiter, 8 Josh Beaumont, 7 David Seymour, 6 Dan Braid (c), 5 Nathan Hines, 4 Jonathan Mills, 3 Vadim Cobilas, 2 Marc Jones, 1 Ross Harrison.
Replacements: 16 Tommy Taylor, 17 Eifion Lewis-Roberts, 18 Ciarian Parker, 19 Mark Easter, 20 Magnus Lund, 21 Will Cliff, 22 Nick Macleod, 23 Tom Arscott.

Clermont: 15 Nick Abendanon, 14 Noa Nakaitaci, 13 Benson Stanley, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Aur