Planet Rugby

Advantage Clermont in Pool Three

19th December 2009 12:23

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Tigers v Clermont

Clinging on: Alesana Tuilagi can't quite break Clermont's defence

Despite a 20-15 defeat to Leicester at Welford Road on Saturday, Clermont's bonus points have them sitting pretty in the HEC Pool Three.

This was not the classic of last week, somehow Welford Road's claustrophobic confines seem to shrink the wide open spaces of the Marcel Michelin too much for all but the most audacious visitor.

Clermont spent much of the game on the back foot but a combination of teak-tough defence and the slippery ball ensured Leicester just could not push their advantage home.

Should the Tigers not make it to the quarter-finals, they will have to look back on the tries they leaked last week and their inability to finish this game off - both handing Clermont precious bonus points - as pivotal.

The French, who fell off the end of the game last week, were forewarned of Leicester's 80+ minute moods and displayed remarkable tenacity. Brock James' sweetly-struck trio of drop goals kept them consistently at Leicester's heels despite an absence of any real try-scoring opportunity.

The discipline held enough to stop the Tigers building up too much of a lead and the chances were taken ruthlessly when they popped up.

Late in the game, as Leicester tried to step up the pace, the intelligence of the French defence shone through, with four or five back-foot balls driven on by leicester players and then turned into penalties by marauding Clermont back-rowers. It was a terrific effort.

By contrast, Leicester had chances. Scott Hamilton let the ball squirt from his grasp with the line in sight. They made a mess of a fine line-out and drive position early in the second half. Leicester's continuity was fine, the forwards drove hard, there was nothing wrong with the defence. But when it came to game-breaking, they were found wanting. 30+ gain-line successes should yield more than two tries.

The Tigers face Viadana at home and the Ospreys away in their two remaining group games as they seek to advance to the knockout stages.

England scrum-half Harry Ellis was on the bench for Leicester, returning after three months out for a knee injury, but Tom Croft is currently out with a knee problem of his own.

Having suffered a 40-30 defeat in France last week the last thing Leicester would have wished would be to go behind after two minutes.

Fortunately for the hosts, fly-half James fired wide after Lewis Moody was punished for coming in at the side.

Flood kicked a penalty after 14 minutes after Clermont were penalised at the breakdown as Leicester took an early lead.

Rugged defence was then required as Lote Tuqiri saved Leicester when he squeezed lock Jamie Cudmore off target as he homed in on a kick-ahead that lay unprotected in-goal.

Clermont kept the pressure on, however, and when Leicester halted an attack heading for their posts, Morgan Parra whipped a pass back for James to equalise with a 20th minute drop-goal only for Flood to regain the lead inside two minutes with a fine penalty from wide out on the left wing.

Anthony Floch tried his luck with a long-range penalty, but his left-foot kick steered off course late in its journey.

Another snap-pass from Parra found James who rifled over his second drop-goal to level the scores after 26 minutes.

Leicester scored the first try after 30 minutes. Louis Deacon soared to win a lineout, scrum-half Ben Youngs bemused the defence with a dazzling run before off-loading to Allen who completed the score. Flood converted.

James had an opportunity to reduce the deficit four minutes later, but his 40-yard penalty attempt dropped short.

Another kick on the stroke of half-time flew just inside the posts. It was adjudged to be wide by the touch-judges, but referee Nigel Owens over-ruled and granted the score after consulting the video ref.

Flood missed a penalty attempt early in the second half, but Leicester then launched a ferocious series of attacking phases, but Clermont held out.

A poor pass was knocked-on by Flood, and the visitors heaved a sight of relief as the siege was lifted without the loss of a score.

Clermont launched an attack of their own which saw James attempt to complete a hat-trick of drop-goals.

But Dan Hipkiss charged down the kick then launched a counter-attack brilliantly halted by Parra, who ran 35 yards to cut the centre down.

Leicester then raged at the visitors' line again only for Hamilton to knock-on two yards out when tackled by Gonzalo Canale.

James did kick a third drop-goal in the 66th minute, cutting the score to 13-12 despite Leicester dominating huge swathes of play.

But nerves were calmed five minutes from time when Hamilton grabbed a ball missed by James and galloped 60 yards to score on the right.

Flood's conversion opened up an eight-point gap only for Owen to award a harsh penalty 60 second later.

James was successful with the kick to pinch a bonus point and put Clermont in a handy position.

The scorers:

For Leicester:
Tries: Allen, Flood
Cons: Flood 2
Pens: Flood 2

For Clermont:
Pens: James 2
Drop goals: James 3

Leicester: 15 Scott Hamilton, 14 Alesana Tuilagi, 13 Dan Hipkiss, 12 Anthony Allen, 11 Lote Tuqiri, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Jordan Crane, 7 Lewis Moody, 6 Craig Newby, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Louis Deacon (c), 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Mefin Davies, 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Replacements: 16 George Chuter, 17 Dan Cole, 18 Boris Stankovich, 19 Ben Kay, 20 Brett Deacon, 21 Harry Ellis, 22 Jeremy Staunton, 23 Johne Murphy.

Clermont: 15 Anthony Floch, 14 Aurelien Rougerie, 13 Gonzalo Canale, Bai, 11 Julien Malzieu, 10 Brock James, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Elvis Vermeulen, 7 Alexandre Audebert, 6 Julien Bonnaire, 5 Julien Pierre, 4 Jamie Cudmore, 3 Davit Zirakashvili, 2 Mario Ledesma, 1 Lionel Faure.
Replacements: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Thomas Domingo, 18 Martin Scelzo, 19 Thibaut Privat, 20 Jason White, 21 Kevin Senio, 22 Brent Russell, 23 Wesley Fofana.

Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Hugh Watkins (Wales), Nigel Whitehouse (Wales)
Television match official: Derek Bevan (Wales), Brian Abrahams (England)

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