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Review

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Team 1

Team Icon
Team Name
Clermont Auvergne
Team Score
48

Team 2

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Team Name
Exeter Chiefs
Team Score
26
Pictures: Getty Images

Pictures: Getty Images

ASM Clermont Auvergne 48

Exeter Chiefs 26

Mark Stevens at the Stade Marcel Michelin

So often the bridesmaids when it comes to Europe and the Champions Cup, maybe this is the year where ASM Clermont Auvergne have their big day in the sun.

For a number of years the French giants have got halfway down the aisle, only to be jilted right at the last minute by a bitter rival who has subsequently claimed the prized crown.

On this latest showing, however, Europe’s elite need to take serious note. Exeter Chiefs were not only dumped out of this season’s competition by a ruthless first half showing at the Stade Marcel Michelin, but it was the manner in which they were brushed aside the Englishmen that will have others quaking in their boots.

Franck Azema’s side were 34-0 to the good at the turn as they claimed five tries in a ferocious first half display that yielded scores for Benjamin Kayser, Noa Nakaitaci, Wesley Fofana, Nick Abendanon and a penalty try.

Peceli Yato and Alexandre Lapandry added to the tally during a second period in which the Chiefs – no doubt warmed by a half time roasting from head coach Rob Baxter – were much improved.

The Englishmen not only pocketed four tries of their own through James Short, Ollie Devoto, Olly Woodburn and Michele Campagnaro, but they claimed a deserved losing try bonus point to ensure the travelling Tribe had something to shout about come the final whistle.

Ahead of kick-off hopes were high that the Chiefs, who had given themselves a potential qualification lifeline with victory over Ulster the previous week, could pull off another European miracle by downing the star-studded French outfit on their own turf. That, however, is no easy task, particularly as Clermont have not lost on home soil since January 2016.

RUGBYU-EUR-CUP-CLERMONT-EXETERRoared on by a near sell-out crowd, the home side got off to a flying start, opening the scoring inside three minutes. A loose line-out from Exeter hooker Jack Yeandle was seized upon at the tail by his opposite number Kayser, who just five metres from the line was able to barge his way over for the opening score, converted by Morgan Parra.

Minutes later and the hosts were adding to their tally, Fijian winger Nakaitaci the beneficiary on this occasion as he finished off strong approach play involving the impressive Remi Lamerat and Yato.

Although Parra was unable to convert that score, the French international made no mistake with a straight-forward penalty midway through the half to put his side three scores clear and in complete control of proceedings.

The Chiefs had hardly had a sniff of anything, but their afternoon was to turn decidedly worse as first Woodburn was deemed to have deliberately knocked forward a pass back inside from Abendanon. The Exeter flyer was duly dispatched to the sin-bin for ten minutes, whilst referee Andrew Brace – following a lengthy conflab with the TMO – decided to award a penalty try.

If that was not a big enough headache for Baxter, the sight of Devoto joining former Bath colleague Woodburn in the cooler for a perceived high tackle merely added to his woes. With the England star sidelined, the hosts exposed the numbers game out wide to send Fofana over by the posts for the bonus point score, converted by Parra to make it 29-0.

Four tries soon became five when, with three minutes of the half remaining, Abendanon got himself in on the scoring act, rounding a slick back move with a score in the right-hand corner.

Exeter did their best to try summon a response of sorts before the break, but although they huffed and puffed with a series of pick-and-go drives, they could find no way through the home defences.

HALF TIME ASM CLERMONT AUVERGNE 34 EXETER CHIEFS 0

Re-emerging for the second half, the Chiefs – with only pride to play for it seems – quickly set about trying to address the wrongs of a dismal first half display.

The half was just 51 seconds old when Devoto collected a pass deep inside his own half before setting off a marauding run through the heart of the Clermont back division. As he drew cover towards him, he offloaded to Jack Maunder, who with time and space to move was on hand to ship the ball wide to his right to Short, who applied the finish with aplomb. Steenson’s conversion helped add volume to the cries of the Tribe on the terraces.

But no sooner had the Chiefs give themselves a lift, they shot themselves in the foot, Yato charging over under the posts for a try that he lapped up off the back of a line-out drill.

Parra converted that score and the home side’s next, which arrived on 51 minutes, when Lapandry finished off with ease in the right corner following strong runs from Lamerat and Sebastian Vaahamahina.

RUGBYU-EUR-CUP-CLERMONT-EXETERAt 48-7 down, damage limitation was now the order of the day for the beleaguered Englishmen. Sure, they stoked up their defence for the remainder of the game, but in attack they found a new gear and with it came a shed load of points.

Tom Johnson, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Stu Townsend all made valuable contributions coming off the bench, while the centre pairing of Devoto and Campagnaro started to make significant inroads with Fofana having limped out of the action.

Targeting hometown favourite Aurelin Rougerie, so the Chiefs found space in which to exploit. Woodburn turned provider for Exeter’s second converted try, finished off by Devoto, then clever work from Townsend saw him spot a mis-match on the blindside that allowed Woodburn to outpace John Ulugia for a third try, this time converted from wide on the right by replacement Joe Simmonds.

With the natives growing restless in the stands at the way in which their side had seemingly switched off, the brave efforts of the Chiefs were duly rewarded late on when Campagnaro was rewarded for an industrious shift by claiming the all-important fourth score with just over ten minutes remaining.

It was rich reward for a spirited second half display from the Chiefs, who although out of Europe for another year, still have plenty of fish to fry both in the Aviva Premiership and, next week, the Anglo-Welsh Cup against Wasps at Sandy Park.

ASM: S Spedding (A Raka 71); N Nakaitaci, R Lamerat, W Fofana (A Rougerie 37), N Abendanon; C Lopez, M Parra (capt, L Radosavljevic 51); R Chaume (V Debaty 54), B Kayser (J Ulugia 54), A Jarvis (D Zirakashvili 54); A Iturria (P Jedrasik 71), S Vahaamahina; P Yato, A Lapandry, F Lee (D Chouly 51).

Tries – Kayser, Nakaitaci Penalty Try, Fofana, Abendanon, Yato, Lapandry; Conversions – Parra (5); Penalty – Parra

Chiefs: P Dollman; O Woodburn, M Campagnaro, O Devoto, J Short (I Whitten 62); G Steenson (capt, J Simmonds 62), J Maunder (S Townsend 58); B Moon (M Low 54), J Yeandle (L Cowan-Dickie 54), T Francis (H Williams 54); O Atkins (D Welch 49), J Hill; D Armand (T Johnson 36), K Horstmann, T Waldrom.

Tries – Short, Devoto, Woodburn, Campagnaro; Conversions – Steenson (2), Simmonds

Yellow Cards: Woodburn, Devoto

Referee: A Brace (IRU)

Attendance: 17,201