Ulster fightback comes up short as classy Clermont romp home
CLERMONT AUVERGNE 38 ULSTER 19
Clermont Auvergne resisted a second-half fightback from Ulster to claim a 38-19 triumph at Stade Marcel Michelin.
A first-half double from Nick Abendanon and Isaiah Toeava's first-minute score had Clermont cruising to victory.
Camille Lopez scored the bonus-point try after half-time to move the French side six points clear at the top of Champions Cup pool five, before Ulster almost produced a stunning comeback.
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.
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 onto 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 Camille Lopez kick, but when he attempted to offload, Remi Lamerat was there to steal possession and put his side on the front foot.
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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 full-back 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.
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 Paddy Jackson was shown yellow for stopping a try-scoring pass from finding its target.