Parra on fire as Clermont send message to Leinster
MORGAN PARRA scored 22 points as Clermont-Auvergne warmed up for the visit of 2009 European champions Leinster by beating 2010 winners Toulouse at home on Saturday.
French Top 14 holders Clermont have struggled at times this season, but a week after slipping to a shock defeat at the hands of newly promoted La Rochelle, Vern Cotter's charges found their rhythm in a 32-25 victory.
Leinster will need to keep their discipline as despite an early try from Maxime Medard, the visitors lost Rupeni Caucaunibuca to the sin-bin and Julien Malzieu skipped in for a try to punish the Fijian's indiscretion.
Penalties from France scrum-half Parra kept the scoreboard ticking over, and despite similar efforts from Toulouse's David Skrela, a converted try from Alexandre Lapandry made all the difference in the end.
Cotter named his strongest back-line and looking at the line-up will chill Leinster coach Joe Schmidt's already cold spine as he contemplates facing the star-studded outfit with a number of novices.
Eoin O'Malley and Fergus McFadden may have picked up tries in impressive performances against the Scarlets on Friday night, but facing Aurelien Rougerie and Malzieu -- as well as Benoit Baby, Napoleoni Nalaga and Gonzalo Canale -- will be another prospect altogether.
Leinster can afford to slip up at the Stade Marcel Michelin, but after being tested so comprehensively by the French side -- who have one win from two in the Heineken Cup this season -- in last year's quarter-final at the RDS, the Blues will be well warned about Clermont's ability.
Tony McGahan may have given his Munster charges a "two or three" out of 10 after they beat Cardiff on Saturday, but the only threes at the Liberty Stadium were on the Ospreys' side of the scoreboard as they warmed up for their return to Thomond Park by hammering Edinburgh.
The Magners League champions were on fire in their two-try 33-16 win that gave them plenty of confidence ahead of the crucial double-header with Munster.
Sean Holley welcomed his Welsh international contingent back into a side that had beaten Leinster the previous week, and while Tommy Bowe got a rest as the only unused sub, Mike Phillips, James Hook, Ryan Jones and Andrew Bishop all got some game time.
Rising star Dan Biggar showed Munster that they will need to watch their discipline by punishing every indiscretion and finishing with 23 points.
Young flanker Justin Tipuric touched down for a first-half try, before winger Richard Fussell put a gloss on proceedings as the game entered the last 10 minutes.
Pool 3 is evenly poised, with every team on one win apiece, with Munster leading the way thanks to the bonus points collected in defeat to London Irish and their demolition of Toulon in Limerick.
Ulster may have been snowed off on Friday, but there was some consolation in the fact that the Bath side who come to Ravenhill on Saturday also had their match called off.
Ian McGeechan's men were due to travel to the English northeast to face struggling Newcastle Falcons, but the weather has hit that part of the country worse than other areas in England and a potential confidence-booster was denied the side who began the season fancied to compete but are ninth in the Premiership.
With a host of his players off on England duty over the Autumn Internationals, McGeechan was denied the opportunity to re-introduce the likes of Matt Banahan, Shontayne Hape and international captain Lewis Moody to his set-up.
Ulster need to beat the English side to leapfrog them in the pool and repeat their victory at the Rec last season in order to qualify for the quarter-finals, having lost to Biarritz in round one.
HEINEKEN CUP FIXTURES
Saturday, December 11
Saracens v Racing Metro, Vicarage Road 3.30
Clermont Auvergne v Leinster, Stade Marcel Michelin, Clermont-Ferrand 3.0
Munster v Ospreys, Thomond Park, 1.0
London Irish v Toulon, Madejski Stadium, 3.0
Ulster v Bath, Ravenhill, 1.30
Aironi v Biarritz, Stadio Luigi Zaffanella, 1.30