Sunday 19 November 2017

Abendanon: Clermont are finally ready to lose their bridesmaids tag

Nick Abendanon. Photo: Remy Gabalda
Nick Abendanon. Photo: Remy Gabalda
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Two final defeats, two semi-final defeats, three quarter-final defeats.

Whatever way you dress it up, Clermont Auvergne's disappointing record in Europe has fallen well short of the expectations of the powerhouse French club who have become the competition's perennial bridesmaids.

Time and time again, they manage to find a way not to seal the deal when it matters most and that is before you even mention their 10 French final defeats.

They have at least gotten over the Top 14 line but their only major trophy in a premier competition came back in 2010, which, considering the resources that have been pumped into the club, does not sit well with their passionate supporters.

Every year is filled with the same hope that they will finally end their long wait for a Champions Cup and this time around, it is no different.

Read more: 'I've too much hunger to wait for window of opportunity'

Fearlessness Clermont are the top seeds in this season's competition and while ordinarily that might worry most teams, Leinster will travel to Lyon on Sunday armed with the same fearlessness that tore Wasps to shreds.

Now in his third season with the club, Nick Abendanon has felt the full brunt of Clermont's failings but unsurprisingly he insists that there is something different about his side this season.

"It's obviously very, very frustrating," the former England player concedes.

"In 2015, we know we should have won that game against Toulon in the final. It seems everyone talks about it every year: that this will be Clermont's year, when they get past the final hurdle.

"The way we're playing this year, we are number one seed in the competition and we beat Toulon at home.

"We're carrying in some good form and there's no reason why we can't go all the way.

"I feel like the team has a better understanding, better rugby intelligence of how we want to play the game."

That may be so but the pressure that the Clermont players are under from their own supporters is like nothing that is experienced in this country.

Read more: Barritt relishing another crack at old foe Erasmus

Take a walk down the street and the punters will voice their anger when necessary but Abendanon believes that he and his team-mates have learned to channel that 'passion' in the right manner.

"In the month up to Toulon game, you couldn't go many places in town without being confronted by fans saying, 'This is the year,'" the winger-cum-full-back explains.

"Everyone believes in the team. It's great to see them so passionate, it doesn't happen in many places around the world. Usually it's this way in football, but these guys love it.

"We all know we have quality in the team. It has to happen at some stage. We know having been in a lot of semi-finals and finals in the past that we need to learn from the losses we've had. This year, the boys have mentally taken a step up in terms of being able to deal with the pressure.

"That game against Toulon was a huge pressure game for us. They had been the bogey team for us. Fans were saying in the build-up: 'We don't care if you lose any Top 14 games once you beat Toulon'.

"The boys coped with that pressure. The boys are a lot more mature now. It is almost the same squad as 2015 so we have learned and hopefully we can adapt and use that to our advantage."

It's a familiar old story and while Clermont are littered with explosive talents, until they get that monkey off their back, the bridesmaids tag will remain.

Irish Independent

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