Exeter Chiefs too strong for Clermont

Date published: December 12 2015

Exeter Chiefs picked up a priceless home victory in the Champions Cup as they beat Clermont 31-14 at Sandy Park on Saturday.

Clermont moved into a formidable early lead following tries from Hosea Gear and Aurélien Rougerie, but Thomas Waldrom got Chiefs on the board before the break. 

Waldrom repeated the feat after the interval to give Chiefs the lead, and two late tries from Don Armand and Mitch Lees sealed a memorable victory. 

Looking to continue their European streak following the victory against Bordeaux-Bègles, Exeter came into this one knowing they would be facing arguably their toughest test so far. 

The first 20 minutes definitely proved that. The hosts put together early surges, and found themselves over the try line in the form of a driving maul. 

TMO interference tried to identify whose hand was on the ball when it was grounded, but despite a series of replays they proved inconclusive, and instead a scrum was awarded. 

Clermont had gotten away with that one, and capitalised as the half progressed. And within the opening 10 minutes, what could have been a seven-point gap against them went in their favour. 

The French side have set the pace early on in the Top 14, and did the same in this one through Gear. He was on hand to finish off a delightful move orchestrated from the five-metre scrum by Camille Lopez, who sent Gear on his way over. The extras were converted through Morgan Parra in front of the posts. 

Chiefs reduced the gap to four points with their first kick of the afternoon, Gareth Steenson making no mistake from a straight forward position. And despite pushing for their first try, they found the game being taken even further away inside 20 minutes. 

Clermont took full advantage of an Exeter move that fell apart, and Rougerie was on the receiving end of a chip forward by Noa Nakaitaci to dot home for number two. 

Parra's kick cannoned in via the woodwork to put clear distance between the sides. But if the visitors thought they had finished the game early on, they were given a severe wake up call. 

After a series of phases which Exeter used to form their attack, they broke through the Clermont defence with Waldrom going over. Steenson defied a continually disruptive wind to kick through the posts and put a three point gap between the sides at the break. 

And out the other side, Waldrom turned the game full circle. The former Leicester colossus powered his way over after a series of driving mauls into the Chiefs defence, grounding and sparking scenes which were extremely unexpected half an hour earlier. 

Steenson's extras gave Chiefs the slenderest of leads. As expected, Clermont didn't take this turnaround too well, and proceeded to bombard themselves forward in search of the fifth try of the game. 

The resolute defensive effort held them off, though that task was made much harder when they lost a man. Phil Dollman was penalised by the referee for not releasing and given 10 minutes to himself, with Chiefs facing a massive final 15. 

But the cause was helped as Peceli Yato made it 14 a piece. He left his side in the lurch just five minutes after they had the extra man, penalised for a high challenge which ensured the majority of the final few minutes would be played without him. 

And in that time, Exeter sealed their second win on the bounce. Armand got the decisive third try from short range, the beneficiary of some calm and well prepared build-up play. 

The extra two from Steenson opened up a 10-point gap, and with Chiefs back to their full number, a memorable victory at Sandy Park was sealed. 

Though the home faithful did still have time to rise to their feet again, as the fourth and final try came from Lees. He sealed the bonus point, with the extra two from Steenson ensuring a big home victory and putting Exeter right into the hunt for qualification.

The scorers:

For Exeter Chiefs:
Tries: Waldrom 2, Armand, Lees
Cons: Steenson 4
Pen: Steenson
Yellow Card: Dollman

For Clermont:
Tries: Gear, Rougerie
Cons: Parra 2
Yellow Card: Yato

Exeter Chiefs: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 Olly Woodburn, 13 Ian Whitten, 12 Sam Hill, 11 James Short, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Will Chudley, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Don Armand, 5 Damian Welch, 4 Mitch Lees, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Jack Yeandle (c), 1 Ben Moon.
Replacements: 16 Elvis Taione, 17 Carl Rimmer, 18 Moray Low, 19 Geoff Parling, 20 Tom Johnson, 21 Dave Lewis, 22 Will Hooley, 23 Michele Campagnaro.

Clermont: 15 Scott Spedding, 14 David Strettle, 13 Aurélien Rougerie, 12 Hosea Gear, 11 Noa Nakaitaci, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Damien Chouly, 7 Vito Kolelishvili, 6 Peceli Yato, 5 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 4 Paul Jedrasiak, 3 Clément Ric, 2 John Ulugia, 1 Thomas Domingo. 
Replacements: 16 Marthinius Van Der Westhuizen, 17 Raphael Chaume, 18 Daniel Kotze, 19 Flip Van Der Merwe, 20 Judicaël Cancoriet, 21 Ludovic Radoslavjevic, 22 Pato Fernandez, 23 Albert Vulivuli.

Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Gary Conway (Ireland), Nigel Correll (Ireland)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)