Impressive Clermont shatter Saints’ European dreams

Stephen Myler
Stephen Myler

Clermont Auvergne dished out a savage 37-5 beating as shell-shocked Saints bowed out of the Champions Cup in ear-splitting noise at Stade Marcel Michelin.

The Top 14 giants were rampant during a first half that brought three tries, two from Noa Nakaitaci and one from Wesley Fofana.

And with Brock James’s boot rubbing salt in the wounds, it was all but game over at the break, with Jim Mallinder’s men 27-0 down.

Things weren’t to improve in the second period as Clermont scored again through former Bath full-back Nick Abendanon, whose display was particularly eye-catching.

Saints did land a consolation blow in the second half as Alex Waller dived over, but it did little to disrupt Clermont’s procession.

Les Jaunards, whose bite matched the bark of their fans, saw out the final moments in style to book a home semi-final spot.

For Saints it was to be a sobering night against a side playing rugby that appeared to be from a different planet.

Mallinder’s side knew they would have to produce one of their best victories if they were to see off a Clermont team who had not lost at home in Europe since 2008.

And with a vociferous home support behind them, the men in white outlined the size of the challenge early on as a huge shove at the scrum gave James an early three points.

Clermont were flooding forward with relentless fervour and with their fly-half pulling the strings, they were soon scenting a first try of the game.

It came through Nakaitaci, who wriggled his way over the line, and with the conversion an easy one, the home side had a 10-0 lead after just 12 minutes.

Myler missed the chance to put Saints’ first points on the board with a wayward penalty attempt before both sides were forced to call on their full-backs to help relieve pressure.

Nick Abendanon did superbly to spin away from advancing Saints attentions before the breakaway he started was halted by a fine tap tackle from James Wilson on Wesley Fofana.

But Clermont didn’t have to wait much longer to add to their tally, with another scrum penalty giving James another three points.

It had been one-way traffic throughout and it was only going to get worse for Saints.

After Lee Dickson’s attempts to box kick his side out of danger failed to yield reward once again, Clermont fizzed the ball wide right for Nakaitaci to score his second try.

James added the conversion from the right touchline with aplomb and Saints had a French mountain to scale at 20-0 down.

And it was to get steeper before the break as Abendanon’s slick offload set Fofana free to score his side’s third try.

James’s conversion took the score to 27-0 at the break, with the PA announcer exclaiming “extraordinaire” as the players headed to the changing rooms.

And the second half wasn’t to start much better for Saints.

James quickly added another penalty to push Clermont further in front before George Pisi lost the ball in contact and Abendanon sprinted from his own 22 to score.

The extras made it a staggering 37-0 before Clermont flanker Julien Bonnaire was sent to the sin bin after an offence at the breakdown.

Eventually, Saints did manage to get their first points on the board as Alex Waller dived over for a consolation before becoming embroiled in fisticuffs with John Ulugia.

But despite a chorus of boos and whistles from the home fans, referee John Lacey took no action and Myler went on to miss the conversion.

There was no late rally as Clermont saw the game out in style to record a huge win that secures a home semi-final spot.

Clermont Auvergne: Abendanon (Delany 68); Nakaitaci, Davies, Fofana (Rougerie 61), Nalaga; James, Radosavljevic (Lacrampe 68); Debaty, Kayser (Ulugia 64), Zirakashvili (Ric 64); Cudmore (Pierre 64), Vahaamahina; Chouly (c), Bonnaire, Lee.

Saints: Wilson (Tuala 59); K Pisi, G Pisi (Stephenson 70), Burrell, Elliott; Myler, Dickson (Fotuali’i 52); Corbisiero (A Waller 55), Hartley (c) (Haywood 62), Ma’afu (Denman 55); Manoa, Lawes (Day 40); Wood (Fisher , Clark, Dickinson.

Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)

Attendance: 17,730