ASM Clermont Auvergne 49 – 16 Scarlets
Blue skies greeted the Scarlets on their visit to Stade Marcel Michelin on Saturday as they were faced with a frenzied and fantastic ASM Clermont Auvergne crowd in the first round of the Heineken Cup. It was an electric atmosphere in what has to be one of the most exciting and intimidating places to play rugby.
The Scarlets were determined to have their say and gave reason for their committed travelling fans to go into cheers of delight as star centre John Davies crossed for a try in the fourth minute which was duly converted.
Clermont hit back with a penalty of their own from scrum half Parra after a scuffle between the two captains McCusker and Rougerie saw the Scarlet punished.
It was a thrilling first half of rugby, with fierce defence and electric attack from both. Wing Stoddart was shown a yellow for catching the ball from an offside position yet it was the Scarlets that took the advantage in the next ten minutes with a sublime drop goal and penalty from fly half Priestland to extend their lead.
With the Scarlets back to their full contingent, Clermont through a clever lineout caught some of the Scarlets forwards sleeping as they broke through to cross for an easy try, Parra converted to level the scores.
Both sides were evenly matched yet disaster struck for the visitors when Clermont were pushing for the try line. Returning wing Stoddart made a try saving tackle on Sivivatu but then failed to roll away. After handing out a shock yellow card earlier in the game, Fitzgibbon was then left with no choice but to issue a second yellow to the winger which saw him issued with a red card. It was to be the decisive moment in the match.
With points taken from the resulting penalty, Clermont retreated at half time leading 16-13, having trailed for the majority of the half.
The second half started disastrously for the Scarlets as a charge down from a Priestland kick and a penalty try from a scrum gave Clermont a comfortable lead. Lee Byrne also finished off a well worked try, with Clermont cleverly making the most of the gap on Stoddart’s vacant wing
Credit must be given to the Scarlets for the sheer commitment, ferocity and determination they showed in having to compete with fourteen men. Time and again they drove Clermont back whilst also making scoring chances of their own. Replacement prop Deacon Manu looked to have crossed for a try, only for it to be adjudged that he’d picked the ball up from an offside position.
With wing George North screaming for the ball, the Scarlets’ forward upped their game and worked their way up the field. With a clear gap opening up on the wing, centre Scott Williams attempted a floating pass out wide, but it agonizingly couldn’t go to hand.
Fatigue and injuries were building up for the Scarlets, with Shingler, L Williams, S Williams and John Davies all having to depart, after more fine work from Davies in making a superb tackle on full back Byrne to hold up what would have been a certain try.
Going into the last ten minutes, Clermont showed their ruthless edge, taking advantage of a wobbling Scarlets set piece, and Bonnaire crossed for their fifth try.
The Scarlets continued fighting to the end, and it was almost with desperation fly half Priestland looked to release replacement Maule out on the wing, only to see his pass cruelly intercepted and for Sivivatu to cross for another try.
The final score ended Clermont 49 – 16 Scarlets, yet it is not one that reflected the nature of the game. The first half had the makings of this being a match to go down in history, yet the loss of Morgan Stoddart put an end to the Scarlets’ chances of being able to truly compete.
They showed a spirit and passion for the game that the Clermont support could only applaud. The home crowd enjoyed a master class display of rugby from their team whilst acknowledging that for forty minutes they had been in a true battle.
Referee: Peter Fitzgibbon
Clermont Auvergne: Lee Byrne; Sitiveni Sivivatu; Aurelien Rougerie (capt), Wesley Fofana, Napolioni Nalaga; Brock James, Morgan Parra; Thomas Domingo, Benjamin Kayser, Davit Zirakashvili, Jamie Cudmore, Nathan Hines, Julien Bonnaire, Gerhard Vosloo, Damien Chouly.
Replacements: David Skrela for Byrne (72), Benson Stanley for Rougerie (61), Ludovic Radoslavjevic for Parra (73), Vincent Debaty for Domingo (47), Ti’i Paulo for Kayser (59), Daniel Kotze for Zirakashvili (59), Elvis Vermeulen for Vosloo (70), Pierre for Hines (64).
Not Used: Pierre.
Scarlets: Liam Williams; George North; Jonathan Davies, Scott Williams; Morgan Stoddart; Rhys Priestland, Tavis Knoyle; Phil John, Matthew Rees, Samson Lee, George Earle, Johan Snyman, Aaron Shingler, Rob McCusker (capt), Josh Turnbull.
Replacements: Ken Owens for Rees (51), Richard Kelly for Snyman (51), Deacon Manu for Lee (51), Gareth Davies for J Davies (77), Aled Thomas for Scott Williams (64), Maule for Liam Williams (66).