Clermont made history on Saturday by becoming the first French team to win away to Munster, snatching a 16-9 victory in the European Rugby Champions Cup.
Last year’s European runners-up were by far more enterprising and creative than the hosts, scoring first-half tries through man of the match Fritz Lee and Wesley Fofana.
However, the sheer will, grit and brute force of the Irish side — who were chasing their 100th win in Europe and had only twice before lost at home on the continent — saw them banging on the door late on in the hope of scoring a converted try that would have earned them a draw.
Ultimately, though, they had to settle for a losing bonus point that left them third in Pool 1 and likely to need a win at Massif Central this week to keep their quarter-final hopes alive.
Clermont’s talisman back Aurelien Rougerie, who was captain until the beginning of this season, said it was important to keep calm.
“It’s huge, no French team had ever won here,” he said. “We’re satisfied, but we’re not forgetting the return match next week, so our emotion is huge, but contained. We don’t want to be turned over at our place.”
Racing-Metro flyhalf Johan Goosen kicks a penalty in their European Rugby Champions Cup match against Ospreys in Swansea, Wales, on Saturday. Photo: AFP
Clermont got off to a cracking start on Saturday as they took the lead in the first minute.
After recovering their own kickoff, scrumhalf Ludovic Radosavljevic chipped cleverly into the corner, forcing a line-out.
The French giants won their own ball before Samoan Lee spun around the back of a maul to touch down in the corner.
Ian Keatley landed a penalty for Munster, but then a move led by bulldozing center Rougerie swept left before coming back across the park, where Lee drew in two players and popped the ball off to Fofana to arc around the final defender and dot down in the corner.
Flyhalf Camille Lopez was struggling with tricky kicks from the touchline, though, and missed both conversions and a penalty.
Keatley’s second kick from the tee closed the gap again, but Lopez knocked over a penalty and added a long-range drop goal to send Clermont into the break 16-6 ahead.
The hosts and two-time European champions cranked up the pressure in the second half and after 20 minutes of dominance, finally put three more points on the board through Keatley’s boot.
Yet although they monopolized the ball for long spells, Clermont defended stoutly to hold on for a win they enthusiastically celebrated.
They now lead both Saracens, who battled to a 19-15 win at Sale earlier in the day, and Munster by a point, while Sale are as good as eliminated.
Owen Farrell was Saracens’ star player on Saturday, scoring a try and kicking six points on his return to the side following England duty.
Billy Vunipola also crossed for Sarries, while Sale scored tries through Magnus Lund and Russian Andrei Ostrikov.
Former winners Ulster kept their faint quarter-final hopes alive with a bonus-point 24-9 win over Scarlets in Pool 3.
Having lost their opening two fixtures, Ulster knew only maximum points would be enough and they duly managed four tries from Darren Cave, Ruan Pienaar, Tommy Bowe and Rory Best, while not kicking a single penalty.
Ahead of champions Toulon’s trip to Leicester yesterday, Ulster had moved up to second in the pool.
Meanwhile, Racing-Metro took a step closer to reaching the knock-out rounds for the first time after drawing 19-19 at Ospreys.
The French side looked set to maintain their 100 percent record in Pool 5 and claim a first-ever win in Wales until Josh Matavesi’s converted try five minutes from time.
Racing-Metro are joint top of the pool alongside Northampton, who thrashed Treviso 38-15.
However, they will be ruing a missed opportunity after dominating the first half and turning around with a 16-6 lead thanks to a try from South African lock Francois van der Merwe and his compatriot Johan Goosen’s kicking.
Northampton plundered six tries in their bonus-point victory at sorry Treviso, who are now essentially out of the running.
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