Clermont gain revenge in Champions Cup

Mark Stevens
Authored by Mark Stevens
Posted Sunday, December 20, 2015 - 7:42pm

Around the globe this week the headlines have all been about the latest episode of the Star Wars collection ‘The Force Awakens’. 

Well, here in France, star-studded Clermont Auvergne showed they had themselves awoken from their European Champions Cup slumber, ruthlessly dispatching of visiting Exeter Chiefs at the Stade Marcel Michelin.

Having had their noses blooded by Devon’s finest just the week previous, the Top 14 outfit underlined their European credentials with a simply mouth-watering display that yielded five tries.

First half tries from David Strettle and Alexandre Lepandry set the tone, before Fritz Lee, Sebastien Vahaamahina and Jonathan Davies followed suit after the break.

French international Morgan Parra hammered over a further 12 points with Scott Spedding and Camille Lopez completing the job for the home side.

The Chiefs, who had led through an early Gareth Steenson penalty, were simply no match in all departments, but kept going until the end, resulting in a try for Tom Johnson and a conversion for Will Hooley.

It was, however, scant reward for Rob Baxter’s side, who were given a harsh reminder of how sporting fortunes can change in just the space of a few days.

With reverberations of last weekend’s win at Sandy Park having finally subsided, the Chiefs took to the field knowing their short hop across the Channel was going to offer a much differ proposition to that which they had faced last time out.

Ahead of kick-off, Baxter made four changes to his starting XV with Carl Rimmer and Geoff Parling brought into the pack, while behind Dave Lewis and Matt Jess were added to the back division.

Clermont, meanwhile, were able to boost their ranks with the return of a number of star names. Vincent Debate, Benjamin Kayser, Jamie Cudmore and Fritz Lee added some hefty bulk up front, while Welsh international Jonathan Davies was back from injury to replace the injured Aurelin Rougerie.

Despite the fresh look to both sides, it was the Chiefs who opened up the brighter, launching a tirade of early raids on the home line.

Baxter’s side worked their way through over 20 phases before their efforts were finally rewarded as Steenson slotted a penalty from in front of the sticks.

In the build-up, however, Clermont’s French playmaker Camille Lopez was spotted tipping Jess in a tackle and having been referred to the TV match official, he was duly dispatched to the sidelines for a ten-minute spell.

Despite being down a man, the French giants responded almost immediately as skipper Parra landed a sixth-minute penalty and full-back Spedding added another just moments later as the Chiefs fell foul of Italian referee Marius Mitrea.

Worse was to follow for the Devonians on 11 minutes when a slick attack from the hosts saw them work the ball from the left to right, through a catalogue of different hands, eventually releasing former Saracens wing Strettle, who was able to dart through a gap and under the posts for the opening try.

The experienced Parra slotted the extras to that score before adding another penalty as the Top 14 outfit started to flex their muscles with some powerhouse plays through the heart of the Exeter rearguard.

At the other end, fly-half Steenson was afforded a second shot at the target, but this time he was unable to plunder the long-range kick.

It was the Irishman’s first miss at goal in Europe this season. Exeter, though, were slowly beginning to find their rhythm and they threatened again on the half-hour mark as strong running from James Short and Jack Nowell managed to position them within sight of the home line. 

However, just as it looked as though the Chiefs were about to pounce, a crucial turnover penalty just yards from the home line dented their ambitions and the chance was lost. It was a costly opportunity lost as their rivals tore down field to lay siege on the Chiefs line once more.

Strettle threatened again with another charging run, before Exeter again fell foul of Mitrea, this time losing Thomas Waldrom to the sin-bin.

With the man extra and a penalty to the corner, the Frenchmen made the numerical advantage tell in an instance as the resultant line-out saw them expose the blindside, allowing flanker Lapandry to dot down with little resistance.

Already it was proving a mountain to climb for the Chiefs, but with the last action of the half they were afforded a chance to reduce the deficit somewhat. Again, though, Steenson could not capitalise as his long-range penalty drifted wide of the right post.

Half time: Clermont Auvergne 21 Exeter Chiefs 3.

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