Sunday 17 December 2017

Aristocrats give Chiefs a lesson

Exeter 12
Clermont Auvergne 39

Paul Ackford at Sandy Park

At first you feared for the well-being of Exeter. Arraigned against them was a veritable Who's Who of rugby talent. Sure, some of them might have been in the category of fading stars.

Aurelien Rougerie, Lee Byrne and Sitiveni Sivivatu lack the snap and poise they once had, but Wesley Fofana, the Clermont centre, can still motor and step. Clermont had 13 full internationals in their side compared to Exeter's two. And of Clermont's unworthy pair, one was Brock James whom Will Greenwood rates as one of the best outside halves in Europe.

So, by any criteria Exeter, were up against it, but after 40 minutes of this intriguing encounter they were in front 12-10 and good value for the lead. Gareth Steenson had banged over four penalties as against a Napolioni Nalaga try, but it was the Chiefs who stitched together the more intelligent rugby.

But the match turned Clermont's way early in the second period. Exeter had lost Richard Baxter to the sin-bin towards the end of the first half and Clermont stepped on the power. Fofana sauntered over after Julien Bonnaire had stolen a ball as Exeter threatened to break out of their own half.

Television replays showed that Fofana had been forced into touch by Tom Johnson but there was no dispute over Clermont's third try when Bonnaire scored in the corner after another burst by Rougerie. Baxter had reappeared on the scene long before then but was unable to prevent the carnage.

In 11 decisive minutes Clermont went from 12-10 behind to a match-winning 25-12 and this Exeter side learned a valuable lesson: against the big beasts of Europe you cannot afford a lapse in effort and concentration which last 11 minutes.

Scorers -- Exeter: Steenson 4 pens Clermont Auvergne: Nalaga 2 tries, Fofana 2 tries, Bonnaire, Sivivatu try each; Parra 3 cons, 2 pens; Skrela 2 cons

Exeter: L Arscott; I Whitten, P Dollman, J Shoemark, M Jess; G Steenson, H Thomas; B Sturgess, S Alcott, C Rimmer, T Hayes (capt), J Hanks, T Johnson, J Scaysbrook, R Baxter.

Clermont Auvergne: L Byrne; S Sivivatu, A Rougerie (capt), W Fofana, N Nalaga; B James, M Parra; T Domingo, B Kayser, D Zirakashvili, J Cudmore, J Pierre, G Vosloo, J Bonnaire, D Chouly.

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