Tigers notch hard-fought win
December 19, 2009
Leicester's Alesana Tuilagi is tackled by Clermont's Aurelien Rougerie
© Getty Images
Leicester Tigers battled to a 20-15 victory over Clermont Auvergne in their Heineken Cup Pool 3 clash at Welford Road.
Tries from centre Anthony Allen and fullback Scott Hamilton and 10 points from the boot of fly-half Toby Flood proved enough to carry last year's beaten finalists to their second victory of the European campaign but the boot of Clermont No.10 Brock James - that provided all his side's points courtesy of three drop goals and two penalties - ensured the French side were rewarded for a battling defensive display with what could be a priceless losing bonus point.
The victory lifted the Tigers to second place in the pool behind pace-setters the Ospreys but their Top 14 rivals' six point haul from their back-to-back clashes leaves them well-placed ahead of the final two rounds of action that will determine who progresses to the knock-out stages.
Clermont were without Fijian wing Napolioni Nalaga, who had scored a brace of tries in last weekend's entertaining 40-30 win in Montferrand, with skipper Aurelien Rougerie shifting from centre to wing as result. Dan Hipkiss returned to the Tigers midfield alongside Anthony Allen while scrum-half Ben Youngs was handed a first start.
Both sides began with plenty of ambition and the opening set the tone for another pulsating clash between two of Europe's premier sides. But instead of the try-fest that was produced at Stade Marcel Michelin last weekend, the capacity crowd were treated a brusing battle of high intensity.
An early penalty against Leicester flanker Lewis Moody offered James the chance to open the scores but the normally reliable Clermont fly-half pulled his effort wide of the posts. Back came the hosts and a strong run from winger Lote Tuqiri put the Clermont defence on the back foot and the resulting penalty allowed Flood to put his side ahead.
Clermont responded well and lock Jamie Cudmore hacked a loose ball into the Tigers' 22 only to see Tuqiri do enough to scramble the ball in to touch. But it was not long before Clermont were pressing again with winger Julien Malzieu scything through the Tigers defence where he was eventually hauled down but James stepped in to slot a simple drop goal get his side back on level terms.
But they were soon chasing the game again with Flood restoring the home side's lead with a well-struck penalty just a minute later. Clermont fullback Anthony Floch then attempted to extend the tit-for-tat exchange but his long-range penalty was short and wide. Undeterred, the visitors rallied once more and Malzieu was again the key threat until he was stopped in his tracks by Flood - only for James to deliver another excellent drop goal.
A superb lineout claim from Leicester's Louis Deacon then laid the platform for the game's opening try. A sniping break from the impressive Youngs cut Clermont open and the No.9 kept Rougerie guessing long enough for Allen to join him in support and take the easy scoring pass.
James resumed the kicking duties with Clermont's next long range penalty but his effort also failed to reach its target - however, he did reduce the arrears to four points with the last kick of the half.
Leicester began the second half strongly but failed to capitalise on their dominance in terms of territory and possession - frustrated at every turn by Clermont's well-disciplined defence. Instead it was Clermont who came closest to scoring next with James quick to drop back in the pocket for another drop goal but the alert Moody and Hamilton charged his effort down.
Flood and Hipkiss then threatened with half breaks on the Clermont 22 but were unable to break down the visitors - with Hamilton spilling the ball under pressure just short of the line in one of several missed opportunities. Having weathered another storm, Clermont took the game downfield and a strong run from hooker Mario Ledesma created the time and space for James to slot his third drop goal to bring his side to within a point.
With the clock running down, Leicester conjured a crucial score to dent the visitors' hopes of ending the Tigers' impressive home record. A seemingly aim-less kick from Flood was allowed to bounce in a rare error from the Clermont defence and Hamilton scooped up the loose ball on half way before racing towards the corner where a last-ditch tackle from Floch was unable to prevent the Kiwi from scoring.
Flood then stepped up to nail an excellent touchline conversion to extend the Tigers' lead to eight points and out of losing bonus point range. But a soft penalty from the re-start against Moody immediately gifted James the chance to close the gap once more and keep he duly slotted the kick.
With a priceless bonus point in the bag the visitors then ran down the clock and as a result it was a muted celebration that greeted the final whistle.
"I am pleased with the win but not with the fact that they leave with a bonus point from a game we largely dominated," said Leicester coach Matt O'Connor. "It can be frustrating when one team is trying to be positive and the other negative. We didn't get the rub of the green with certain decisions, but the win keeps us in there fighting.
"I'm convinced one of us will go through as a successful runner-up, but it will go down to the wire. When Scott Hamilton scored his try, it was a relief all round and now we look forward to the last two rounds."
"Gentlemen, if you want to see the World Cup going south yet again, you are going the right way about it," John Taylor looks at the state of European rugby
The Heineken Cup proved once again just why it is the best domestic rugby competition in the world at the weekend and Monday Maul picks out some of the key talking points
The latest Week in Pictures brings you a selection of the best snaps from around the rugby world with scantily clad ladies, O'Driscoll and snow all featuring