Clermont claim Euro silverware again
CHALLENGE CUP REPORT: Clermont has won a third title in Europe with a ruthless attacking display, beating La Rochelle 36-16 in Newcastle on Friday.
A first-half try by young France backline sensation Damian Penaud helped to create family history and a record-equalling third Challenge Cup triumph for Clermont.
At the St James’ Park football ground – where David Ginola used to star in the Newcastle United No.14 shirt – Clermont’s right wing bagged the breakthrough score that set his club on the way to a hat-trick of victories in Europe’s second-tier competition, backing up their successes of 1999 and 2007 – to match Harlequins’ triple haul.
Penaud’s father Alain captained Brive to the 1997 European Champions Cup.
The favourites had to overcome the early loss of their captain, Morgan Parra, but the scrumhalf’s replacement, Greig Laidlaw, weighed in with four penalties and three conversions.
Second half tries by No.8 Fritz Lee and centre Wesley Fofana also helped to dampen a La Rochelle fightback sparked by a try from prop Uini Atonio.
Clermont attacked from the off and Penaud came close to scoring after four minutes, gathering a cross-field kick from fly-half Camille Lopez on the 22-metre line and cutting through La Rochelle defence before stretching in the tackle to dot the ball down a few centimetres short of the try-line.
Parra made no mistake with his first shot at goal, landing a 12th minute penalty to furnish Clermont with a 3-0 lead.
Sadly for the veteran France half back, it was to be his only contribution on the scoreboard.
After Clermont had weathered the first spell of La Rochelle pressure, Parra collapsed to the floor when attempting a clear-out tackle, damaging his left knee and ankle.
That released Laidlaw from bench duty and the Scotland captain duly picked up where he had left off in the same ground at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, where his 26 points and late try helped his country to a crucial victory over Samoa.
A Challenge Cup winner with Gloucester in 2015, Laidlaw stretched Clermont’s lead with a 22nd minute penalty.
Ihaia West made it 6-3 with his first penalty attempt two minutes later but in the 29th minute Penaud burst through an attempted tackle by La Rochelle’s Kiwi fly-half to nail the opening try.
West cut the gap to 13-9 with a 47th minute penalty but a miss by the Maori All Black three minutes earlier started to look costly when Laidlaw hit back with two successful goal kicks.
In the 58th minute, Lee scored from a line-out drive and Laidlaw’s conversion took the score out to 26-9.
La Rochelle struck back, prop Atonio scoring from close range in the 64th minute and West converting to make it 26-16
10 minutes from the end, the bold fightback was effectively curtailed when Fofana landed try number three for Clermont, touching down Lopez’s clever grubber kick.
Laidlaw converted and then landed a 79th minute penalty, making it seven kicks for the stand-in number nine.
For Clermont Auvergne:
Tries: Penaud, Lee, Fofana
Cons: Laidlaw 3
Pens: Parra, Laidlaw 4
For La Rochelle:
Pens: West 3
ASM Clermont Auvergne: 15 Isaiah Toeava, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 George Moala, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Alivereti Raka, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Morgan Parra (captain), 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Alexandre Lapandry, 6 Arthur Iturria, 5 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 4 Sitaleki Timani, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Benjamin Kayser, 1 Etienne Falgoux.
Replacements: 16 John Ulugia, 17 Beka Kakabadze, 18 Davit Zirakashvili, 19 Paul Jedrasiak, 20 Peceli Yato, 21 Greig Laidlaw, 22 Tim Nanai-Williams, 23 Apisai Naqualevu.
La Rochelle: 15 Vincent Rattez, 14 Arthur Retiere, 13 Geoffrey Doumayrou, 12 Pierre Aguillon, 11 Marc Andreu, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Tawera Kerr Barlow, 8 Grégory Alldritt, 7 Kevin Gourdon, 6 Wiaan Liebenberg, 5 Mathieu Tanguy, 4 Romain Sazy (captain), 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Jean-Charles Orioli, 1 Dany Priso.
Replacements: 16 Pierre Bourgarit, 17 Vincent Pelo, 18 Arthur Joly, 19 Thomas Jolmes, 20 Zeno Kieft, 21 Alexi Bales, 22 Jérémy Sinzelle, 23 Botia Veivuke.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Luke Pearce (England), Matthew Carley (England)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)