Clermont see off gallant Leicester
Clermont keep remarkable home record intact as Leicester become latest victims
Clermont’s Wesley Fofana scores his try against Leicester. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Clermont 22 Leicester 16
Leicester were knocked out of the Heineken Cup despite a valiant comeback in their quarter-final clash against Clermont-Auvergne, the French side prevailing 22-16.
Tigers trailed 16-0 after 35 minutes at Stade Marcel-Michelin where Clermont were unbeaten in their previous 74 games in all competitions.
But Jordan Crane’s try and the boot of Owen Williams saw former Heineken Cup winners Leicester come agonisingly close to ending the longest unbeaten home record in Europe.
However, Richard Cockerill’s side fell just short in the end, after storming back to 19-16 down, as Thomas Waldrom’s untimely yellow card midway through the second period proved costly.
Clermont dominated the first half, though it was through the boot of Morgan Parra that they led 19-7 at the break.
That allowed Wesley Fofana to launch a daring counter-attack, eventually halted by Vereniki Goneva.
Fofana threatened with his footwork whenever he touched the ball and was again involved for the opening points on 13 minutes. Thomas Domingo bashed through Louis Deacon and Fofana followed to earn a penalty.
It was to be a familiar story by half-time.
Leicester paid the price for twice failing to stop Aurelien Rougerie as he drifted across to combine with his midfield partner. Fofana’s quick-hands released Davit Zirakashvili before racing onto the prop’s well-timed return pass to score in the 22nd minute.
Parra converted from wide and added two more penalties, either side of Williams’ striking the post, to steer Clermont further ahead in front of a raucous crowd.
Clermont went close to scoring a second try when Noa Nakaitaci and Jean-Marcellin Buttin combined but Tigers managed to get enough bodies under Zirakashvili to prevent the prop grounding the ball over the line.
Leicester also repelled a strong surge by number eight Fritz Lee off the resulting scrum and Julian Salvi seemed to have pulled off a crucial steal, only to be penalised for holding onto the ball and Parra extended Clermont’s lead to 16-0.
The visitors looked to be staring defeat in the face but Crane offered a lifeline before half-time.
Williams found Gibson in acres of space with a pin-point cross-field kick and Blaine Scully drew the last two defenders to hand Crane an easy finish close to the posts.
Parra struck a third penalty on the stroke of half-time but the try, which was converted by Williams, had shifted the balance in power and Leicester sensed a chance.
They were far more competitive at the breakdown and, at last, their backs had possession to play with.
Goneva stepped through tackles on a mazy run as Tigers burst out of defence with Anthony Allen and Tait. Tuilagi looked to have broken clear but was hauled into touch by Naipolioni Nalaga.
Scully out-jumped two defenders as Williams almost worked a second score with another kick across field but the scoring pass eluded them.
The Welshman did, however, kick three penalties while Parra and Brock James both fired wide to slash the deficit to just three points, at 19-16, on the hour.
Nerves crept around Stade Marcel-Michelin as the home team’s lead dwindled until Waldrom, on the field for just three minutes as a replacement, was binned for illegally trying to prevent a Clermont drive rumbling any further.
Parra kicked his fifth penalty put they were the only points Leicester conceded during the 10-minute spell to set up a tense finale.
Tigers mounted a last desperate attack in the final moments and captain Slater came within two metres of the line but Graham Kitchener’s over-eagerness got the better of him and James was able to clear the danger.