Planet Rugby

Clermont claim the upper hand

08th December 2007 15:25

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James Haskell of London Wasps v Clermont in Heineken Cup

James Haskell: Makes the most of some weak Clermont defence to score

Clermont capitalised on several moments of Wasps ill-discipline to send the Heineken Cup champions home empty-handed on Saturday, in a rugged 37-27 victory in the Heineken Cup.

Wasps were punished for a gamble in the dying throes of a enthralling game. There will be those who argue it was a needless gamble, and those who commend Wasps' adventure, but let's reserve judgement until the end of this gripping pool, as only then will the true value of a missed bonus point become clear.

Truth be known, this defeat was born out of the Wasps' own indiscipline, the sort that crept into their game as early as the second minute and from then on the rot spread. Six of those infringements were punished by the impeccable boot of Brock James, but there were several more in less advantageous positions.

There will also be no doubt that Wasps will look to one critical moment in the game, the sort of moment that a game, and in this case a pool, can hinge on. Patient approach work from Clermont created the space on the blind side for the tenacious Mario Ledesma, who in turn dipped his shoulder and bullocked over for what seemed a perfectly legitimate score.

Several television replays showed that the hooker clearly failed to score, James Haskell's despairing boot preventing the grounding before Mark Van Gisbergen wrestled the ball from Ledesma's failing grip. Yet the TMO controversially awarded the try to deal the champions a devastating blow on the stroke of half time.

An opening quarter that stumbled along will be remembered for three penalties, two for James and one for Danny Cipriani, and little else. Both sides looked to wrestle control from the other, only to achieve a stalemate that threatened to spoil the spectacle.

Then, against the flow of the game, Clermont struck in superb fashion. A midfield scrum allowed them to probe the blind side through Pierre Mignoni and then Marius Joubert. It was Joubert who attracted the Wasps cover defenders before slipping a dreamy pass back into Julien Malzieu who did the rest.

Wasps, on the ropes, flexed their muscle and hit back with a score of their own, although Sam Broomhall and Julien Bonnaire will rather forget the incident altogether. Haskell took up possession of the ball faced with the formidable back row pair and set his direction straight at them. Contact was taken and somehow Haskell emerged on the other side with a simple route to the line. Broomhall and Bonnaire were left clutching at thin air.

It was then, as Wasps looked to claim a footing in the game, that Ledesma scored to open up a telling gap at the interval. It was a gap that Wasps had little regard for, taking just a minute of the second half to cut it by seven, Tim Payne finishing off a fine flowing move.

The indiscipline then began to eat away at the very core of Wasps, Brock James slotting the first of four second-half penalties from straight in front. Haskell did help himself to a second score, thanks largely to the one poor Clermont line-out of the game, nonetheless it was a try that swung the lead the way of the champions for the first time.

Knowing that they had a chance to consolidate their favourable position Wasps proceeded to surrender their lead inside a minute, this time Phil Vickery the guilty party, not for the first or last time. Two successful penalties from James soon become three when Simon Shaw was caught offside, and then three became four with Vickery's idiotic stamp on the prone Thibaut Privat.

Staring the prospect of going home empty-handed in the face Wasps were thrown a lifeline after Malzieu was caught with his hands in the cookie jar at the ruck. Cipriani shouldered the pressure - he had failed twice before - and delivered the required result with a fine kick. Time for Wasps to chance their arm, one sensed.

Indeed they did chance their arm and it cost them dear, as it was when they desperately went after a winning score that the ball was lost and Aurélien Rougerie ran away with a try, the game, and Wasps' precious bonus-point.

Man of the match: For Wasps there was the dynamic Raphaël Ibañez and outstanding James Haskell, but it was the Clermont players who stole the show. Mario Ledesma was immense, turning in a vintage performance, but it was his fly-half Brock James who steals the award from him. It was his boot that won this game, primarily the points it contributed but also the manner in which he pinned Wasps back time and again.

The scorers:

For Clermont:

Try: Malzieu, Ledesma, Rougerie

Cons: James 2

Pens: James 6

For Wasps:

Tries: Haskell 2, Payne

Cons: Cipriani 3

Pens: Cipriani 2

The Teams:

Clermont Auvergne: 15 Anthony Floch, 14 Aurélien Rougerie (c), 13 Marius Joubert, 12 Gonzalo Canale, 11 Julien Malzieu, 10 Brock James, 9 Pierre Mignoni, 8 Elvis Vermeulen, 7 Sam Broomhall, 6 Julien Bonnaire, 5 Thibaut Privat, 4 Jamie Cudmore, 3 Martin Scelzo, 2 Mario Ledesma, 1 Laurent Emmanuelli.

Replacements: 16 Mirko Lozupone, 17 Thomas Domingo, 18 Christophe Samson, 19 Alexandre Audebert, 20 John Senio, 21 Alex King, 22 Benoît Baby.

London Wasps: 15 Mark Van Gisbergen, 14 Paul Sackey, 13 Fraser Waters, 12 Riki Flutey, 11 Tom Voyce, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Eoin Reddan, 8 Lawrence Dallaglio (c), 7 James Haskell, 6 John Hart, 5 George Skivington, 4 Simon Shaw, 3 Phil Vickery, 2 Raphael Ibanez, 1 Tim Payne.

Replacements: 16 Rob Webber, 17 Nick Adams, 18 Richard Birkett, 19 Dan Leo, 20 Simon Amor, 21 Josh Lewsey, 22 Tom Rees.

Referee: Alan Lewis (Ireland)

Touch judges: George Clancy (Ireland), Dudley Phillips (Ireland)

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