Clermont are surely the best club never to have lifted the Heineken Cup and they took an important step in ridding themselves of that unwanted tag yesterday when they saw off a spirited Montpellier side that played their part in this drama.
Scorers: Clermont: Tries: Fofana, Rougerie, Sivivatu, Bryne, Nalanga. Cons: Parra 2, Skrela 2. Pen: Parra. Montpellier: Try: Nagusa. Pens: Paillaugue 3.
Clermont’s unbeaten run at home now stands at a barely believable 59 matches and they remain favourites to lift the Heineken Cup. Ironically their semi-final is scheduled to take place in Montpellier against the winner of today’s match between Harlequins and Munster.
Yesterday’s visitors actually played pretty well on the day, dominating the early exchanges and giving nothing away up front. They tackled themselves to a standstill but still found themselves on the wrong side of a 5-0 try count. Whoever has to play Clermont in the semi-final will look upon the task while fighting down an overwhelming sense of panic.
Montpellier’s challenge was not helped by losing their international playmaker Francois Trinh-Duc inside the opening half hour. He was replaced by Pierre Berard with the Argentine midfielder Santiago Fernandez shuffling in from 12 to ten.
Nathan Hines did his bit for Clermont without necessarily advancing his claims for a place on the upcoming Lions tour this summer. For the visitors Johnnie Beattie got off the substitutes bench but only after this match was long gone.
The visitors were first out the blocks and they stunned Clermont with their aggression in the tackle, taking away time and space by throwing the twin centres up at real pace. Time and again the home forwards were rocked backwards and the visitors even silenced the home support by winning a scrum against the head although, by way of an excuse, Clermont had lost prop David Zirakashvili just before kick-off. All this meant that Montpellier dominated the early exchanges, with scrum-half Benoit Paillaugue kicking three early penalties, to one from Morgan Parra for Clermont. The match was effectively put to bed over the course of five short minutes when Clermont scored two tries which stopped Montpellier in their tracks. The first came on 27 minutes from Wesley Fofana who got on to the end of a chip kick from Parra after flanker Gerhard Vosloo had tapped a kickable penalty and injected some much needed urgency into his team. In fact the South African flanker Vosloo was the outstanding player on the field despite the scoring prowess of the back three.
Montpellier fans will claim that the French centre was offside when he scored and they may have a point but it made little enough difference in the final totting up. Five minutes later the former All Blacks winger Sitiveni Sivivatu stepped his way through three midfield tackles before giving skipper Aurelien Rougerie a clear run to the line. From being 9-3 down, Clermont found themselves 15-9 to the good as the match broke for half time.
If Montpellier were still in this contest at half time they were dead and buried 13 minutes into the second half when Fofana made the initial half break and Sivivatu was on his inside shoulder to make a mazy run that took him over 50 yards all the way to the Montpellier posts for the try of the match. Still the home side were not finished and Welsh fullback Lee Byrne got the fourth try after good work from Rougerie and Fofana.
Bryne could almost have made it five just minutes later but he was unable to get his pass away, but still replacement Regan King carved out one final touchdown for Napolioni Nalaga five minutes from time.
That still proved more than enough time for Montpellier winger Timoci Nagusa to score from deep in what proved the last move of the match – a consolation try that offered little enough comfort to the shell-shocked visitors.
Clemont: Byrne (King 74 min), Sivivatu (Buttin 70 min), Rougerie, Fofana, Nalaga, Radoslavjevic (Skrela 47 min), Parra, Bonnaire, Bardy (Lapandry 52 mins), Vosloo, Hines, Cudmore, Kotze, Kayser, Domingo (Debaty 62 min).
Montpellier: Amorosino, Nagusa, Combezou, Fernandez; Artru, Trinh-Duc (Berard 26 mins), Paillaugue; Tulou (Fakate 60 min), Bias (Beattie 55 min), Ouedraogo, Privat (Demarco 48 min), Gorgodze, Bustos, Creevy (Fa’amausili 66 min), Watremez (van Vuuren 65 min) (Lobo 48 min).
Referee: W Barnes (Eng).