Veteran Bok opens his Ulster account in win
EUROPEAN CUP REPORT: South African World Cup winner Duane Vermeulen scored his first Ulster try as the Irish province left Clermont at risk of missing out on the last 16 with a 34-31 win on Saturday.
Vermeulen, 35, bundled over with half an hour left on his fourth appearance for the Ravenhill outfit after joining from the Bulls in September.
The 1999 champions were already guaranteed a knock-out place before the game but the French side, runners-up on three occasions, are seventh in Pool A and need Montpellier, who welcome Exeter Chiefs on Sunday, and Glasgow Warriors, who host La Rochelle later on Saturday, to slip up.
Jacobus van Tonder, Alivereti Raka and Judicael Cancoriet crossed for Clermont in the final 10 minutes but the late rally was insufficient to claim a first win in Ireland since 2014 and leaves them potentially missing out on top-tier European knock-out stage for just the second time in a decade.
“There are a lot of questions of ‘what if?’,” Clermont head coach Jono Gibbes said.
“It will be interesting to see Montpellier’s response at home to Exeter and if Glasgow has the pedigree to get over a very good La Rochelle team.”
Having gone 12-34 down in the second half, Clermont responded with three late tries through Jacobus Van Tonder, Alivereti Raka and Judicael Cancoriet, with Ulster managing to hold out for the win.
It was an unhappy Ulster reunion for current Clermont director of rugby Jono Gibbes, who left the United Championship side in 2018, as his men failed to secure a place in the Round of 16 and will now need help from other results to qualify.
Herring opened the scoring for the hosts in the eighth minute, coming out of an Ulster maul to dot down for his second Heineken Champions Cup try of the season.
Morgan Parra quickly responded for the visitors with a penalty to get Clermont on the board.
The 33-year-old then put Gibbes’ side 6-5 ahead after they won a scrum penalty.
Mike Lowry put Ulster back ahead as the fullback showed sheer explosiveness to burst through the Clermont defence – escaping a Parra tackle to go over in the corner.
The boot of Parra saw Clermont regain the advantage, kicking two more penalties for a 12-10 lead.
However, a yellow card for Raka gave Ulster the man advantage as the Clermont wing was sent to the sin bin.
Ulster hooker Herring then scored his second try just before half-time, breaking from another Ulster maul to dot down, with Nathan Doak adding the extras to put the Irish province 17-12 up at the interval.
Doak, making his second European start, gave the hosts their first points after the break with a penalty before Duane Vermeulen used his strength to power over from close range and secured a bonus point for Ulster.
Robert Baloucoune then gave Ulster their fifth try of the evening after he was released by a long, floating pass by Billy Burns, who then added the extras for the Irish province for a 34-12 lead.
Clermont then replied with a fantastic try as replacement Damian Penaud, Cheikh Tiberghien and Lucas Dessaigne all combined to release Van Tonder for his first Heineken Champions Cup try of the season.
The gap was then closed to 10 points as Raka finished off another fantastic team try for Clermont, with replacement Camille Lopez converting.
The tension then rose even further among the Ulster fanbase at the Kingsholm Stadium as Cancoriet dotted down following a Clermont maul, with another Lopez conversion making it a three-point game.
Tries: Herring 2, Lowry, Vermeulen, Baloucoune
Cons: Doak 2, Burns
Tries: Van Tonder, Raka, Cancoriet
Cons: Lopez 2
Pens: Parra 4
Yellow card: Alivereti Raka (Clermont, 38)
Ulster: 15 Mike Lowry, 14 Robert Baloucoune, 13 James Hume, 12 Angus Curtis, 11 Ethan McIlroy, 10 Billy Burns, 9 Nathan Doak, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Nick Timoney, 6 Marcus Rea, 5 Kieran Treadwell, 4 Alan O’Connor (captain), 3 Marty Moore, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Eric O’Sullivan.
Replacements: 16 Brad Roberts, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Tom O’Toole, 19 Sam Carter, 20 Greg Jones, 21 David Shanahan, 22 Ben Moxham, 23 Craig Gilroy.
Clermont: 15 Cheik Tiberghien, 14 Marvin O’Connor, 13 Jean-Pascal Barraque, 12 Tani Vili, 11 Alivereti Raka, 10 JJ Hanrahan, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Jacobus van Tonder, 7 Lucas Dessaigne, 6 Judicaël Cancoriet (captain), 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Paul Jedrasiak, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Yohan Beheregaray, 1 Etienne Falgoux.
Replacements: 16 Etienne Fourcade, 17 Daniel Bibi Biziwu, 18 Cristian Ojovan, 19 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 20 Fritz Lee, 21 Kevin Viallard, 22 Camille Lopez, 23 Damian Penaud.
Referee: Luke Pearce (England)
Assistant referees: Craig Evans (Wales), Paul Dix (England)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)