Clermont Auvergne 23-10 Saracens, Heineken Cup, October 9
Clermont too strong for Saracens
October 9, 2010
Clermont's Jamie Cudmore coasts over for a try at Stade Marcel Michelin
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Clermont Auvergne laid down an impressive Heineken Cup marker with a ruthless 25-10 victory over Saracens in their Pool 2 clash at the Stade Marcel Michelin.
Tries from lock Jamie Cudmore and wingers Julien Malzieu and Napolioni Nalaga along with 10 points from the boot of scrum-half Morgan Parra carried the Top 14 giants to a deserved victory over their Premiership opponents and saw them keep pace with pool rivals Leinster who powered past Racing Metro earlier in the day.
Winger David Strettle grabbed a second half try for the visitors and out-of-sorts fly-half Derick Hougaard weighed in with the conversion and a penalty but three missed place kicks proved costly. The intense encounter also saw yellow cards issued to Cudmore and team-mate David Zirakashvili but the visitors failed to capitalise and suffered a harsh lesson as a result.
Saracens wasted no time in giving the ball some width and Clermont met fire with fire in a lively opening played out in a yellow and blue cauldron. The visitors should have struck first with the efforts of locks Hugh Vyvyan and Steve Borthwick in the loose drawing a penalty but Hougaard was uncharacteristically wide of the target.
But there was little time for consolation before Goode ghosted through the Clermont defence and as the home side continued to back off him he surged to the line only for a last-ditch tackle from fly-half Brock James to dislodge the ball and deny the fullback an early contender for try of the season.
A crossing offence in midfield then handed Parra the chance to open the score but he was also wide with his kick. However, they did not have to wait long for another chance that came gift-wrapped courtesy of a risky drop out from Hougaard that back-fired on the Premiership side. The South African's cheeky kick fell straight into the hands of Cudmore with the lock galloping over for the opening try that was converted by Parra.
Clermont fullback Anthony Floch was some way short with a long-range penalty on the quarter hour but there were greater concerns for the home side soon after when Cudmore saw yellow for a punch on Saracens prop Deon Carstens. Cudmore's indiscretion was punished further by Hougaard who slotted the penalty but Clermont hit back in style. Quick ball in the Saracens 22 found James who fed centre Marius Joubert and when Saracens wing Strettle drifted in looking to disrupt the move the way was left clear for Malzieu to coast over in the corner.
Penalties continued to creep into Saracens' game but thankfully for them James' first shot at goal was woefully inadequate. Cudmore's return to the fray coincided with a sustained rear-guard effort from the home side who swarmed first hooker Schalk Brits and then Hougaard as they closed in on the line with Clermont centre and captain Aurelien Rougerie seemingly lucky to escape with a trip on the latter.
Clermont rode their luck in defence with a final warning from the referee preceding yet another barrage from Saracens that included a vicious double hit on Brits as he looked to breach the last line of defence. With the clock ticking down, Saracens powered forward again with No.8 Kelly Brown the latest to held up just short but was called back for yet another offence against the home side. On this occasion the offender was Clermont prop David Zirakashvili who was guilty of an off-the-ball tackle on Saracens scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth that saw the Georgian sent to the sin-bin. But the victory was arguably Clermont's as Hougaard pushed the penalty wide of the posts with the last act of the first half.
Clermont looked to keep it tight following the re-start in the absence of Zirakashvili but a strong run from centre Brad Barritt up the middle and quick ball soon had the hosts in trouble. Hougaard fed Strettle who in turn found fullback Chris Wyles and having drawn the last man he popped the ball back inside to his winger who strolled over for a well-worked try. Hougaard's conversion brought Saracens to within two points but they immediately undid their hard work. The visitors were guilty of playing a bit too much rugby on their own 10m line and a hack ahead from Parra led to a penalty that the scrum-half sent between the posts.
The game threatened to open up midway through the half and a short lineout move between Brits and replacement Mouritz Botha almost caught Clermont asleep but it was the boot of Parra that kept the scoreboard ticking over - his second penalty pushing Saracens out of bonus point range.
A mistake from Malzieu under a high ball offered Saracens a glimmer of hope but the danger was snuffed out emphatically when Nalaga engulfed Strettle to the crowd's delight. But a penalty against replacement prop Martin Scelzo handed Saracens the chance to claim something from the game with five minutes to go but Hougaard could only push his latest attempt wide.
Instead it was Clermont who had the last word with Rougerie pouncing inside the Saracens' 22 and although he was held up, the ball found its way to Nalaga who had the easiest of scores that was converted by Parra to wrap up a deserved win.
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum.