Top 14 - Game of the Week
Perpignan grind out revenge
August 13, 2010
Perpignan's Julien Candelon makes some ground
© Getty Images
Perpignan scrapped to a 21-13 victory over Clermont Auvergne at the Stade Aime Giral on Friday night, securing a small measure of revenge after losing out to Les Jaunards in last season's Top 14 final.
The home side were disjointed and played the final 10 minutes with 14 men after replacement Guillaume Vilaceca was shown a red card for a sickening stamp on Thibaut Privat, but somehow managed to grind out a vital win in the race for early season bragging rights.
As has so often been the case in the past it was the boot of Perpignan fullback Jerome Porical which decided the game, the newly-capped France international finishing with 15 points. Stand-in fly-half David Mele also landed two opportunist drop-goals before hobbling from the field with a knee injury, adding to their already lengthy injury list at No.10.
Clermont scored the game's only try through giant wing Napolioni Nalaga as they looked to break Perpignan's proud home record in the league, but another errant night with the boot from Brock James undermined their efforts.
Porical's first kick uncharacteristically sailed wide of the mark and while a quickly presented second went through the uprights, the Perpignan fullback's jitters soon caught hold of James. The Clermont fly-half endured a miserable run at the end of last season, handing the kicking duties temporarily to absent scrum-half Morgan Parra, and saw his first two efforts from the tee hooked wide.
In a tetchy opening period there was little to choose between the sides aside from at the set-piece, where Perpignan's England prop Perry Freshwater tore at Martin Scelzo. A decimated Clermont scrum luckily gifted James one of his missed opportunities but the forwards remained on edge, a feeling only highlighted by the latest in a series of bust-ups between Clermont lock Jamie Cudmore and Perpignan's Robins Tchale-Watchou.
Perpignan then went to within inches of the opening try as Romanian flanker Ovidiu Tonita barrelled towards the whitewash, and Clermont centre Benoit Baby was lucky to avoid 10 minutes in the bin after patting the ball from the grasp of the ball carrier. Their decision to go for the corner was not rewarded but after James had missed his second shot following good work by Nalaga, Mele stroked over a well-judged drop-goal.
Porical hit the post with his next penalty and the home side were soon behind. Perpignan were splintered when Wesley Fofana found space away from a mass of forwards and with referee Jerome Garces signalling a penalty, a quick pass from James allowed Nalaga to power over out wide. The fly-half converted on this occasion but the visitors crucially let their discipline slip and either side of the break Porical landed nine points from the kicking tee to open up a little bit of breathing space.
Clermont had introduced their big summer signing, former All Black Sione Lauaki, at the break and the ex-Chiefs skipper was immediately making waves as a piston-like hand-off sent Nicolas Mas sprawling and almost set up a try for James. Hooker Ti'i Paulo wasted the opportunity with a shoddy pass.
James slotted a much-needed three points to close the gap but with whispers of an upset floating around the ground, Mele responded with his second drop-goal. It proved to be the fly-half's last involvement as he trudged off injured, with James having chipped over another penalty after a dangerous tackle by Gerrie Britz.
Lauaki's influence steadily grew and one combination with Nalaga along the touchline will have sent shivers down the spine of Clermont's rivals. The forwards found their stride and carried close to the Perpignan line, where their scrum finally clicked and won a penalty. A quick take almost sent James across out wide but a sloppy lineout from a second penalty relieved the pressure.
Vilaceca's moment of madness left Privat nursing a bloodied eye and Perpignan down to 14 men, with Clermont fullback Anthony Floch chancing his arm with a penalty from inside his own half in an attempt to rub salt in the wound. The ball fell short and Perpignan applied a vice-like grip to the closing stages of the contest. Waves of pick and drive ate into the clock until Elvis Vermeulen lost patience and was binned for a ruck infringement, Porical holding his nerve to win the game.