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Review

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Team 1

Team Icon
Team Name
Exeter Chiefs
Team Score
8

Team 2

Team Icon
Team Name
Clermont Auvergne
Team Score
35
Pictures: Exeter Rugby Club/Pinnacle Photo Agency

Pictures: Exeter Rugby Club/Pinnacle Photo Agency

Exeter Chiefs 8

ASM Clermont Auvergne 35

Mark Stevens at Sandy Park

A bit like the Incredible Hulk, you don’t want to see him angry, but an angry Rob Baxter pulled no punches after watching his side slip to defeat in their European Champions Cup opener against ASM Clermont Auvergne.

Having watched his side make a spluttering start to this season’s Aviva Premiership campaign, the Chiefs failed to fire at all against the star-studded Frenchmen, who inspired by Wesley Fofana cruised their way to all five points at Sandy Park.

The talented French international helped himself to a brace of tries, while Julien Bardy, Noa Nakaitaci and Nick Abendanon also found their way over the whitewash.

Scrum-half Morgan Parra converted the first four tries, while replacement Pato Fernandez added the final nail in the Exeter coffin.

For the Chiefs – who travel to Ulster Rugby this coming Saturday – they countered with a first half penalty from Gareth Steenson and a late try from Sam Hill, but they were the only bright moments on a dismal night for the Devonians.

Ahead of kick-off both teams emerged to mark a minute’s silence in memory of Munster head coach Anthony Foley, who had suddenly passed away just hours before his own side’s scheduled European encounter with Racing Metro 92 in Paris.

With the wind at their backs in the opening half, the Chiefs started brightly and wasted little time in setting out their attacking stall against the current Top 14 league leaders.

984723-1Early inroads dented the French visitors, but it was not until Steenson slotted a seventh minute penalty that the Chiefs finally made their mark.

Baxter’s side continued to press forward in serach of further reward, but it was to no avail as Clermont held firm under intense pressure.

At the other end, Luke Cowan-Dickie underlined the home side’s commitment with some thunderous tackles on a plethora of Clermont attackers, but sadly the England star’s night would be curtailed early due to an ankle injury.

Having survived the strong opening quarter from the Chiefs, Clermont slowly began to find their rhythm and with it came their first points of the evening.

Flanker Bardy was the first to cross, finishing off in the left-hand corner when he latched onto a simple pop pass from the imposing Nakaitaci.

Parra slotted a sublime touchline conversion before adding the extras to a second visiting try on 28 minutes, Nakaitaci the beneficiary on this occasion as he was able to glide over after the visitors had reacted quickest through Camille Lopez to turnover ball.

The quickfire double stunned the Chiefs, but they thought they had cut the deficit just past the half hour mark when David Strettle’s intended clearance was charged down by Whitten.

However, the subsequent foot race to the line saw both men fall on the ball and although Irish referee George Clancy sought clarification, no try was awarded and the Chiefs were left to reflect on ‘what if’.

Clermont duly made the most of the left off and with the last play of the first half, they stung the Chiefs yet further when Fofana was able to race over, again finishing off clever work from Lopez for converted try number three.

HALF TIME EXETER CHIEFS 3 ASM CLERMONT AUVERGNE 21

With a mountain to climb in the second period, the Chiefs again looked to set the early tone. Baxter’s troops pressed hard in battle, but their French rivals were proving miserly in a defiant rearguard action.

Turning defence into attack, Franck Azema’s side nabbed the all-important bonus point early after the restart when former Bath flyer Abendanon showed not only dazzling foot work, but a rapid turn of speed to ghost in under the home posts.

Already the writing was on the wall for the Chiefs, but urged on by a near 10,000 crowd they did look to salavage something from a tough night at the office.

Dave Lewis, Jack Yeandle and Thomas Waldrom all peppered the Clermont line with close-in raids, but the visitors were happy to soak up the pressure – legally and illegally – halting the home side’s charge.

984724-1Although momentum was building in favour of the Chiefs, they could not land a telling blow. Chances came and went, before Clermont lost lock Flip Van der Merwe to the sin-bin for persistent infringing.

Now with the man advantage the Chiefs looked to strike. Sadly, it was not to be as a combination of sloppy handling, wrong decisions and outstanding defence from the visitors kept them at bay.

Fresh muscle was thrown on by Baxter, including a first team debut for young scrum-half Jack Maunder – the son of former club legend Andy Maunder – but still they could not penetrate the French line.

Instead, it was the ‘Men in White’ who countered to deadly effect, adding a fifth try with ten minutes remaining through man of the match Fofana, who latched onto a pass from Ludovic Radosavljevic to trundle over under the posts. Fernandez slotted the simple conversion to heap further misery on the Premiership outfit.

To their credit, though, the Chiefs did show their fighting spirit and in a last throw of the dice, they rewarded themselves with a late consolation try through Hill. The centre had worked tirelessly all game and was able to claim the score with just a minute remaining.

It gave the home faithful something to shout about late on, but they know – as does Baxter and his team – a marked improvement will be needed in Belfast next weekend.
Chiefs: L Turner (M Bodilly 52); O Woodburn, O Devoto, S Hill, I Whitten; G Steenson (capt, H Slade 57), D Lewis (J Maunder 56); M Low (C Rimmer 52), L Cowan-Dickie (J Yeandle 29), H Williams (G Holmes 52); G Parling, D Welch (M Lees 56); K Horstmann, J Salvi, T Waldrom (D Dennis 56).

Try – Hill; Penalty – Steenson

Clermont Auvergne: N Abendanon; D Strettle, R Lamerat (A Rougerie 60), W Fofana, N Nakaitaci; C Lopez (P Fernandez 64), M Parra (L Radosavljevic 66); T Domingo (E Falgoux 52), B Kayser (N Charles 69), D Ziratkashvili (C Ric 60); F Van Der Merwe, S Vahaamahina; D Chouly (capt, P Jedrasik 53), J Bardy, F Lee (A Lapandry 46).

Referee: G Clancy (Ire)

Tries – Bardy, Nakaitaci, Fofana (2), Abendanon; Conversions – Parra (4), Fernandez

Yellow Card: Van Der Merwe

Attendance: 9,879