Heineken Cup 2014: Three talking points as Clermont beat Leicester
Heineken Cup 2014: Three talking points as Clermont Auvergne are 22-16 winners against Leicester Tigers
Home comfort for Clermont
A fortress, in sporting terms, is such a huge advantage to a home side that it can see teams win matches they didn’t deserve to win. It can also bring unwanted pressure when unbeaten streaks continue. If there was pressure on Clermont Auvergne to win their 75th consecutive home match in all competitions at the Stade Marcel Michelin they certainly didn’t show it against a Leicester Tigers team finding form in the Aviva Premiership as they defend their domestic title. The capacity may only be 18,000 at the Clermont-Ferrand stadium, but their fans are among the most vocal in European rugby and make their presence felt for the entire 80 minutes not just when their side are playing well. Clermont’s home record under Vern Cotter is remarkable and one the Scottish Rugby Union would love to have as Cotter finally departs the French club to lead the Scotland national team this summer. Les Jaunards have lost just four home matches since Cotter arrived in Clermont in 2006 with their last defeat coming on 21 November 2009 when Biarritz scored a last minute try to win 16-13. As recent defeats in the Top14 have shown, Clermont would wish to play every match in their natural environment if the chance presented itself and it’s why they were always going to be overwhelming favourites to win a home quarter-final by a close margin. It’s what they do. It wasn’t the most assured of performances from Clermont, despite the first-half pummelling they served up to the Tigers, but it was enough in what turned out to be a close game with the English side still in the match until the final minute – their over eagerness to get a match-winning try at the death cost them, but so did their lack of intensity in the first half. Clermont’s rugby may not always be the most attractive, but there is something unquestionably special about Clermont playing at the Michelin, much like there is Ulster at Ravenhill or Munster at Thomond Park.
Outmuscled battlers fall short
Leicester have shown a welcome return to form in the Premiership of late with impressive wins as they look to cement their place in the top four, but even with Manu Tuilagi and Niki Goneva in the side they were unable to really trouble Clermont. They battled hard at times, certainly in the second half when they got on top at the breakdown, but the first half was such a disappointing performance as they were outmuscled and outplayed in so many areas. Despite the creativity of Owen Williams at outside-half they lacked the quality to finish off the few moves they put together, save for Jordan Crane’s first-half try. In the last eight of the Heineken Cup, it simply isn’t good enough. There was plenty of determination and pride as one would expect from a Richard Cockerill side visiting his former club, but their indiscipline allowed Clermont to edge further ahead to take the match beyond their grasp, typified by Thomas Waldrom being sent to the sin-bin just three minutes after coming on as a replacement.
Cardiff calling for Clermont
Clermont were easily the best club in the Heineken Cup last season, but lost the final 16-15 to Toulon and having dispatched two-time champions Leicester in the quarter-finals will feel they can go to Twickenham and get past Saracens. The Premiership leaders may have set a new world record for attendance at a domestic rugby match last month, but their semi-final defeat to Toulon last season saw just 25,584 fans turn up and their new Allianz Park hasn’t always been a sell-out this season either. With Sarries “home” semi-final venue again being Twickenham, Clermont certainly won’t be intimidated and will feel they are more than capable of living with the power and pace that Sarances have become known for. Clermont will feel they are back where they belong, in the semi-finals of Europe’s elite competition, aiming to correct the failing of last season and go one better by actually winning the tournament. With Munster Clermont and Saracens qualifying, that’s three of last year’s four semi-finalists already through with Toulon making it a full house if they defeat Leinster on Sunday. Clermont are more than capable of defeating all four. There are few individual players at Clermont – it’s not part of the Cotter ethos. Teamwork is key and they bring it in abundance as Leicester found to their cost. Even without the mercurial talent of Sitiveni Sivivatu, there was plenty to suggest that Clermont can defeat Saracens who struggled to overcome 14-man Ulster and make the final at the Millennium Stadium next month.
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