Sunday 15 December 2019

Brave Tigers fall just short

Clermont Auvergne 22 Leicester 16

Clermont's French centre Wesley Fofana scores a try
Clermont's French centre Wesley Fofana scores a try
Anthony Allen of Leicester runs with the ball during the Heineken Cup quarter final match between Clermont Auvergne and Leicester Tigers
Blaine Scully of Leicester breaks with the ball

Paul Rees at Stade Marcel-Michelin

Leicester came as close as anyone to winning in Clermont this season, dominating the final 45 minutes having been 16 points down.

Had their discipline matched their resolve, they would have been celebrating a notable victory. They made last season's beaten finalists look ordinary for long periods, but conceded seven kickable penalties and lost Thomas Waldrom to the sin-bin at a crucial point.

Clermont had not lost at home since 2009, recording 74 victories since a defeat to Biarritz, with Leicester, twice, among the victims.

The match was 60 seconds old when Mathew Tait's kick from near the halfway line went too far and gave Clermont a scrum. It was a recurring theme of the opening half, the home side's opening try coming when they were defending on their own 22.

Morgan Parra gave Clermont the lead in the 15th minute with a penalty from in front of the posts after Tom Youngs had strayed offside. Leicester were more impressive in defence than attack, with Julian Salvi thwarting numerous raids, but it was their inability to generate momentum that led to them falling 16-0 behind after 34 minutes.

Clermont's try, scored by Wesley Fofana, illustrated Leicester's weakness. When Napolioni Nalaga threw a loose pass near his own 22 and the ball was seized by Anthony Allen, Leicester had a prime opportunity to attack with turnover ball. Ben Youngs kicked rather than passed, the execution rather than the idea that was wrong. Nalaga was isolated but the ball was too close to him and Leicester found themselves back in their own 22.

Two lineouts later, Aurelien Rougerie appeared to be heading along a road marked closed but he changed direction and spotted an overlap. He passed to Fofana going left and the prop Davit Zirakashvili exploited the man advantage by holding on to the ball long enough to give himself option on the outside and inside before feeding Fofana.

Clermont were looking imposing. Parra's second penalty gave them a 13-point lead and he claimed three points from in front of the posts after Salvi appeared to have legitimately forced a turnover. Penalties were costing Leicester – the count was 6-2 against them in the first half – but they hauled themselves back into the match with a try from nowhere.

Owen Williams shaped up for another diagonal on halfway but the fly-half had spotted space on the right and his weighted chip was caught by Jamie Gibson. The flanker passed to Blaine Scully and the wing stepped out of the challenge of Brock James before eluding two other defenders, leaving Jordan Crane with the task of taking the pass to score.

Although Parra made it 19-7 at the interval with a penalty, conceded not for the first, or last, time by Tom Youngs at the breakdown, there had been a momentum shift. Leicester were more precise after the break and chiselled their way back by playing more in Clermont's half and winning penalties.

Williams kicked two from inside his own half in the first 11 minutes of the second period and the crowd, so raucous earlier, became quiet. James and Parra missed kicks for Clermont, who had become muted as an attacking force.

When Williams reduced Leicester's deficit to three points on the hour with his fourth penalty, the opportunity was there. Leicester captain Ed Slater was warned a yellow card was pending after the Tigers conceded two more penalties, but Clermont could not convert either.

The card duly arrived, sub Waldrom heading to the sin-bin for entering a maul from the side. Parra kicked the resulting penalty but Clermont did not use their numerical superiority effectively and the Tigers had one final chance only for Slater to be penalised for holding on, having been tackled just short of the line.

Scorers – Clermont: W Fofana try, M Parra con, 5 pens

Leicester: J Crane try, O Williams con, 3 pens

Clermont: J-M Buttin; S Nakaitaci, A Rougerie, W Fofana, N Nalaga; B James, M Parra; T Domingo (V Debaty 49), B Kayser (T Paulo 51), D Zirakashvili (C Ric 68); J Cudmore, N Hines (J Pierre 75); J Bonnaire, D Chouly, F Lee (J Bardy 70).

Leicester: M Tait; B Scully, M Tuilagi, A Allen, N Goneva; O Williams (T Flood 75), B Youngs (D Mele 75); M Ayerza (B Stankovich 75), T Youngs, L Mulipola; L Deacon (G Kitchener 57), E Slater; J Gibson, J Salvi, J Crane (T Waldrom 61).

Referee: A Rolland (IRFU).

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