Best bemoans errors after Ulster fightback falls short
Ulster captain Rory Best was "massively disappointed" to leave the Stade Marcel Michelin empty-handed yesterday, as their second-half fightback fell short at Clermont Auvergne.
Clermont 38 Ulster 19
The Top 14 front-runners moved six points clear at the top of Champions Cup Pool 5 after a first-half double from Nick Abendanon and Isaiah Toeava's first-minute score gave Clermont a 21-0 lead at the break.
France outside-half Camille Lopez got the bonus point with an interception try after half-time, before Ulster fought back.
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 and secured a 38-19 triumph. Ulster will now need to win both of their remaining matches, against Bordeaux-Begles and Exeter, to stand any chance of qualifying.
Clermont's knockout place looks certain, as they moved eight points clear after a third victory in four matches.
And Best was disappointed to leave France with nothing after their valiant second-half effort.
He said: "The damage was done in the first half, we knew we had to come here and start well and keep the ball for long periods of time and frustrate them.
"We are massively disappointed to come away with nothing. We expected to win, we prepared well and we knew if we did the things we talked about all week, we had a good chance.
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"But we didn't do that at the start and it's cost us a losing bonus point which we put ourselves in a great position to get.
"We conceded turnovers and weren't good enough at the breakdown, we knocked on and gave silly penalties away and when you give a top side like this access into the game, they are going to score tries.
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 on to 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 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 wing 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.
Paddy 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 Jackson was shown yellow for stopping a try-scoring pass from finding its target.
Clermont Auvergne: I Toeava (A Rougerie 56); N Nakaitaci, R Lamerat ( P Fernandez 77), W Fofana, N Abendanon; C Lopez, M Parra (L Radosavljevic 70); E Falgoux (T Domingo 56), B Kayser (J Ulugia 64), D Zirakashvili (M Simutoga 68); A Iturria (F van der Merwe 66), S Vahaamahina; V Kolelishvili (P Yato 54), A Lapandry, D Chouly (capt).
Ulster: C Piutau; T Bowe (J Stockdale 71), L Marshall (D Cave 50), S McCloskey, L Ludik; P Jackson, R Pienaar (P Marshal 65); K McCall (A Warwick 18), R Best (capt) (R Herring 60), W Herbst (R Ah You 50); P Browne (K Treadwell 50), F van der Merwe; I Henderson, C Henry (C Ross 66), S Reidy.