INCOMING Scotland coach Vern Cotter saw his Clermont Auvergne team stretch their undefeated home run to an incredible 75 matches as the French club saw off a valiant Leicester effort in the Heineken Cup quarter-final clash, prevailing 22-16 to set up a Twickenham semi-final.
Tigers trailed 16-0 after 35 minutes. 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.
Wesley Fofana threatened with his footwork whenever he touched the ball and was involved for the opening points on 13 minutes. Thomas Domingo bashed through Louis Deacon and Fofana followed to earn a penalty.
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 on to the prop’s well-timed return pass to score in the 22nd minute. Parra converted from wide and added two more penalties 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.
Leicester also repelled a strong surge by No.8 Fritz Lee off the resulting scrum and Julian Salvi seemed to have pulled off a crucial steal, only to be penalised for holding on to the ball and Parra extended Clermont’s lead to 16-0.
The visitors looked out of it 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.
Vereniki Goneva stepped through tackles as Tigers burst out of defence with Anthony Allen and Mathew Tait. Manu Tuilagi looked to have broken clear but was hauled into touch by Naipolioni Nalaga.
Williams kicked 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 halt a Clermont drive.
Parra kicked his fifth penalty but they were the only points Leicester conceded during the ten-minute spell to set up a tense finale.
Tigers mounted a last desperate attack in the final moments and captain Ed 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.