Clermont take big step towards quarter-finals
January 16, 2010
Clermont winger Napalioni Nalaga celebrates a try with his captain Aurelien Rougerie
© Getty Images
Dan Biggar James Hook Brock James Ryan Jones Julien Malzieu Napolioni Nalaga Morgan Parra Aurelien Rougerie
Clermont Auvergne edged nearer this season's Heineken Cup quarter-finals with a 27-7 victory over Ospreys in their crucial Pool 3 clash at Stade Marcel Michelin.
Second-half tries from wingers Julien Malzieu and Napalioni Nalaga and 17 points from the boot of fly-half Brock James carried the Top 14 leaders to a vital victory that also denied the Ospreys what could be a vital losing bonus point. A maximum points haul against Viadana in their last pool clash next weekend would see Clermont progress to the last eight thanks to their previous results over rivals Ospreys and Leicester, who will meet in Swansea.
The Ospreys produced a lively opening that included a try for winger Tommy Bowe and a conversion for fly-half Dan Biggar, but they were unable to maintain that momentum and were left to rue missed chances. However, the Welsh could not complain about the result.
The visitors made a confident start, moving the ball at pace and they could have had the opening try with less than a minute on the clock. A long pass from Biggar found centre Sonny Parker, who released Byrne and the fullback found Bowe but the Irishman lost his footing when a try looked on. Back came Clermont immediately with fullback Anthony Floch breaking free in midfield before launching a kick and chase downfield. Nalaga claimed to have beaten Ospreys captain Ryan Jones to the loose ball but the Television Match Official ruled a knock on by the Clermont speedster.
The breathtaking opening continued with the presence of Byrne in the line again causing chaos and this time Bowe was able to collect the pass and race in to score for the opening try of the game. The conversion from Biggar helped to silence the vociferous home crowd - if only temporarily. There was more trouble for Clermont when Ospreys scrum-half Ricky Januarie caught Nalaga in possession on his own line before stripping the ball, but a superb tackle from Seremaia Bai denied the Springbok the try.
The impressive Byrne claimed a high ball superbly on the quarter hour but was penalised for not releasing and the prolific James put his side on the board with the penalty.
Clermont continued to steady the ship with scrum-half Morgan Parra catching the eye with a neat chip and chase and winger Julien Malzieu causing trouble with a strong run into the Ospreys' 22. Parra was the next to cut a great line through the visitors after a neat lineout move but some scrambling defence ensured another scoring chance went begging. But a big scrum drew another penalty that James slotted to make it a one-point game.
Clermont continued to show the more enterprise and were handed the chance to stretch their lead when flanker Jerry Collins was penalised harshly for two successive high tackles. Justice was served when James hit the woodwork with the kick. But interference from the Ospreys' Alun Wyn Jones gifted the Clermont No.10 another shot at the posts moments later - and this time there was no mistake. And James turned the screw before the break with a well-taken drop goal.
There was no let up in the second half and Clermont continued to dominate in terms of territory and possession and they were rewarded for their endeavours with another penalty chance but James pushed the kick wide of the target. The Ospreys rallied with Byrne sparking a break and Wyn Jones adding some grunt with Aurelien Rougerie eventually scrambling a Collins chip into touch inside his own 22. The Welsh side chose to spin the ball off the lineout but failed to find a weak link in the Clermont defence and they would struggle to trouble the hosts for the remainder of the half.
Biggar was later handed a chance to reduce the arrears but he failed to slot the kick and James' off day with the boot continued on the hour when he hit the post for the second time.
In what proved to be the key moment in the game, Byrne was then stripped of possession with the ball falling kindly for Rougerie, who fed Malzieu and the winger had the pace to score in the corner. James achieved the rare feat of hitting the other post with his conversion attempt.
Sensing blood, James found another great touch and Clermont stole possession before prop David Zirakashvili burrowed close to the line. Desperate but effective defence from the Ospreys turned over the ball but they remained under the cosh and another penalty resulted in a yellow card for prop Adam Jones and another three points for James.
The Ospreys went looking for at least a bonus point to strengthen their case for a quarter-final berth but Nalaga pounced for an interception and coasted in for his side's second try to put the game beyond doubt. James's conversion took his personal tally 17 points and set the seal on a deserved win.
"The loudest cheer at a rugby game, away from social media gimmicks, pumping music and pyrotechnics will always be for a try." Tom Hamilton on the Twickenham atmosphere
"The only thing that will stop this England team from becoming a great team is themselves. They need to ask themselves 'what can we be?'" The Phil Vickery column
The latest Monday Maul looks at the hectic final weekend, the Lions hangover, the superb Mike Brown and the 'selfie'
"At the crux of this England team is a lack of fear, they are not afraid to throw playbooks out of the window." Tom Hamilton reports from Twickenham