Ulster fightback comes up short as classy Clermont romp home
CLERMONT AUVERGNE 38 ULSTER 19
Clermont Auvergne resisted a second-half fightback from Ulster to claim a 38-19 triumph at Stade Marcel Michelin.
A first-half double from Nick Abendanon and Isaiah Toeava's first-minute score had Clermont cruising to victory.
Camille Lopez scored the bonus-point try after half-time to move the French side six points clear at the top of Champions Cup pool five, before Ulster almost produced a stunning comeback.
Tommy Bowe crossed twice to add to Franco van der Merwe's drive over score, but a late penalty try ended hopes of a losing bonus point.
Clermont scored in the second minute at the Kingspan Stadium last weekend, but they went one better in front of their home fans with a try in the opening 60 seconds.
All Black Toeava glided onto a pass from Wesley Fofana and cut through in midfield before side-stepping past the final defender to score.
Parra converted for an early 7-0 lead, before it got even worse for the Ulstermen after 18 minutes.
Charles Piutau collected a high Camille Lopez kick, but when he attempted to offload, Remi Lamerat was there to steal possession and put his side on the front foot.
Clermont went through the phases before spinning the ball left to Abendanon, who raced over at the corner.
It was not long before the hosts continued their ferocious start with a third unanswered score.
This time the French pack turned on the power to shunt Ulster back before releasing Lopez.
The outside-half found Abendanon in space with a perfectly weighted kick, and all the full-back had to do was touch down. Parra converted again to make it 21-0 before the half-hour mark.
Ulster had an opportunity with a five-metre scrum on the stroke of half-time, but Clermont won a crucial penalty to maintain their lead at half-time.
It was a case of deja vu for the Irish province at the start of the second half as Lopez went from provider to scorer.
The France playmaker intercepted a pass from Ruan Pienaar and sprinted 70 metres to wrap up the bonus point, before Parra converted again to send Clermont into a 28-0 lead.
Ulster kicked off their comeback when Pienaar looped a pass over the defence and into the arms of Bowe, and the Ireland wing ran over unopposed.
The second-half revival continued after 61 minutes when Van der Merwe was shunted over the line from a close-range lineout.
Jackson converted to narrow the gap to 14 points, before Bowe crashed over from close range after Stuart McCloskey's break.
Lopez landed a penalty, before a penalty try wrapped up the result after Paddy Jackson was shown yellow for stopping a try-scoring pass from finding its target.