Top 14 - Game of the Round
Clermont battle past Toulouse
September 6, 2009
Brent Russell dives in to score for Clermont
© Getty Images
Clermont Auvergne defeated their fierce rivals Toulouse 19-12 in a bruising contest at the Stade Marcel Michelin, denying Guy Noves' men revenge for their defeat in last season's Top 14 semi-final.
The home side made it six-in-a-row against Toulouse at home and jumped in to second in the Top 14 table thanks to a try from replacement centre Brent Russell and 14 points from the boot of fly-half Brock James. Toulouse failed to produce much in the way of attacking threat and registered their points through the boots of Frederic Michalak and Jean-Baptiste Elissalde.
Clermont flew out of the traps with Napolioni Nalaga haring for the line after some swift handling in the backs, a forward pass by Elvis Vermeulen wrecking a perfect start. Makeshift Toulouse fullback Cedric Heymans fluffed his lines under his first high ball but his side weathered the early storm and emerged unscathed as the home fans roared their approval.
James slotted the first points of the night with trademark ease after seven minutes and continued to terrorise the Toulouse back-three with some raking kicks. A break by Florian Fritz sparked Toulouse in to action, a miss pass in midfield sending the centre clear before Louis Picamoles was halted inches from the line by some frantic Clermont defence.
Michalak drew the scores level with a penalty of his own, before Clermont's Seremaia Bai missed out on the opening try when he fumbled the ball while attempting to collect a cross-kick from James. The Fijian international turned his ankle in the process, being replaced by Russell.
The Springbok's first involvement was to score the opening try, latching on to a miss-pass from James and crashing over under the posts. Aurelien Rougerie ran a perfect decoy line and Russell capitalised, 28 seconds after his introduction.
Toulouse lost lock Yoann Maestri to the sin-bin as the half-hour mark approached, the 21-year-old taking exception to Jamie Cudmore's treatment of Byron Kelleher at a ruck. James soon extended the Clermont lead to 10 points with his second penalty and Michalak missed out on a vital opportunity of his own moments later.
Michalak atoned for his error with a penalty immediately after the break but two moments of indiscretion allowed the deadly accurate James to restore a 13 point cushion.
With both sides struggling with accuracy and try-scoring opportunities at a premium, the control of James helped Clermont to slow proceedings down. Vermeulen was guilty of knocking on following a multiple-phase move deep in Toulouse territory and the No.8's evening took a further turn for the worse when he saw a yellow card for killing the ball after a rampaging break from Yannick Nyanga and Picamoles.
Michalak closed the gap to 10 points from the ensuing penalty, his last involvement before a reshuffle in the backs saw Yannick Jauzion introduced, Fritz shifting to fly-half. The change from Noves failed to yield any extra attacking ideas from the visitors, who looked increasingly desperate as the final whistle approached.
Regardless, Elissalde slotted a penalty to eat further in to the hosts' lead but his kick served to spark Clermont back in to life. After Vincent Clerc was turned over by Loic Jacquet, the impressive Jason White combined with Mario Ledesma to go close to scoring a second try. A horde of Toulouse forwards managed a try-line turnover to rescue the situation.
Toulouse had one remaining throw of the dice but the wholehearted Clermont defence remained firm - securing a penalty for James to fittingly end proceedings.