Top 14 - Game of the Week
Clermont taste revenge against Perpignan
March 5, 2010
Nicolas Laharrague slots a drop-goal for Perpignan
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Clermont Auvergne claimed revenge for defeat in the final of last season's Top 14 by seeing off Perpignan 22-17 at the Stade Marcel Michelin, taking control in the race for a top two spot in the play-offs and going top prior to Castres' meeting with Brive.
The teams began the evening locked together on 61 points but it was the home side who finished the night with a vital advantage. Anthony Floch's second-half try proved pivotal, as did the boot of ever-reliable fly-half Brock James, after Perpignan hooker Marius Tincu had shocked the home crowd into silence by barging over for a try. Nicolas Laharrague and David Mele scored the rest of Perpignan's points from the kicking tee but they were made to pay for Damien Chouly's sin binning by Floch.
Chouly was one of four players to see yellow, with Jerome Schuster the other from the away side and Martin Scelzo and Julien Bonnaire trooping off for Clermont. Bonnaire was one of a number of French internationals on display, with Julien Malzieu and Alexandre Lapandry also starting for Clermont and Morgan Parra and Thomas Domingo named among the replacements.
Laharrague picked up the opening points with a drop goal after an overthrown lineout fell to him from a Clermont knock-on. James levelled the scores by landing his first penalty but Laharrague couldn't do the same to reclaim the lead as Perpignan competed well at the breakdown in the early stages. Floch put the home side in front with a drop-goal, but really Clermont should have picked up the opening try following a howler by Phillip Burger, who chose to dummy on his own line after fielding a kick from Malzieu and threw a forward pass to concede an attacking scrum.
Clermont's Vincent Debaty was denied a score against his former employers by a knock-on, the loosehead throwing his head back in aguish after bulldozing through Joffrey Michel's tackle. The ensuing scrum descended into chaos as Clermont tight-head Scelzo got to grips with Schuster, both men seeing yellow from referee Jerome Garces.
Laharrague and James both missed penalties to leave the score at 6-3 approaching the half-hour mark but the home side felt aggrieved when a high-tackle on Bonnaire went unpunished. They again went perilously close to the opening try just before half-time, with Malzieu beating Burger to the ball and sparking the attack. Bonnaire and Napolioni Nalaga carried well before James split the Perpignan line with a well-judged chip, which Perpignan's Romanian openside Ovidiu Tonita rescued with a sliding take.
Rather than going further behind, the visitors struck back to draw level again thanks to a long-range drop-goal from Laharrague. Moments after the break they had more to celebrate as their Romanian connection fired to produce the opening try. Tonita pirouetted through a tackle and offloaded to Tincu, who dummied the cover defence and crashed over out wide.
Laharrague could not add the extras as Clermont coach Vern Cotter unloaded his big guns from the bench. Domingo jogged on to replace Debaty at loose-head and set up a face off against French team-mate Nicolas Mas while Parra replaced Kevin Senio at scrum-half.
James narrowed the gap to two with his third penalty and Perpignan flew up offside following a sniping break from Floch, conceding the lead to James' fourth. The away side's discipline continued to undermine their effort with Chouly sent to the sin-bin for killing the ball and Clermont struck at a vital time in the game.
Parra sniped at the heart of the Perpignan defence and was given willing support by Jamie Cudmore, who charged for the line and was stopped inches short. Parra re-emerged to find quick ball from the ruck and James fired a perfect pass to Floch, who coasted through huge gap to score.
Perpignan showed heart to fight back with a series of drives in the Clermont 22 and Laharrague rewarded their efforts by slotting a penalty. Mele could not close the gap further with Perpignan's next attempt and James punished his profligacy by chipping over a drop-goal following a lost lineout.
Bonnaire saw yellow soon after for a swinging arm, allowing Mele to narrow the gap with another penalty. The visitors set about building position in the closing minutes and were gifted one last opportunity by a careless knock-on from Nalaga. The giant wing was saved from the nightmare scenario by an equally sloppy knock-on from Perpignan No.8 Henry Tuilagi, with the game going the way of Les Jaunards at the death.
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