Adam McKendry at the Stade Marcel-Michelin
ULSTER STAGED A dramatic second half comeback at the Stade Marcel-Michelin but it wasn’t enough to overcome Clermont Auvergne, who won their Champions Cup clash 38-19.
It was Ulster’s first half that left them very little chance to win the game as they went in three tries and 21-0 down, although they gave a spirited reply in the second 40.
In exactly the same fashion as last week, Clermont hit Ulster with their first attack, this time Isaia Toeava was the one who scored, breaking the line and stepping inside Tommy Bowe to go over.
What was different from last week’s game was that Ulster were not as sharp as they were in Belfast as they passed up a couple of good opportunities to level a few minutes later.
And they were made to pay handsomely as Clermont flexed their muscles and scored two quick tries, both from Nick Abendanon, to give them some considerable breathing space.
The first was a simple case of numbers as the Clermont forwards battered their way through and then the ball was spun out the backs where Abendanon finished off a considerable overlap in the corner.
The second, however, was a piece of class from fly-half Lopez, who put in a pinpoint crossfield kick and Abendanon gladly caught it and went over for his second, and Clermont’s third.
It was all falling apart for Ulster, whose confidence seemed to have evaporated, and but for Parra uncharacteristically missing a penalty on the half hour mark, they could have been further behind.
But arguably the biggest blow was just before the break as the visitors attacked the Clermont line, only to opt for a scrum from a penalty and concede a penalty themselves, ending any chance of a score.
Instead it was Clermont who picked up the next score, as Lopez intercepted a pass from Pienaar a minute after the restart and sprinted the length of the pitch for what was the bonus point try.
It looked like Ulster might never break their deadlock, especially when Sean Reidy was denied a try by the TMO as he was held up over the line, but suddenly the visitors sparked into life.
First came a score from Tommy Bowe, who had acres of space on the wing after Ulster turned the ball over at the back of a scrum, and the winger had the presence of mind to go closer to the posts for Jackson to convert.
Then on the hour mark Ulster remarkably went over again, a dominant driving maul powered its way over and taking the credit at the back was replacement hooker Rob Herring.
The crowd by this point had fallen silent and the next sound they made were howls of derision as Bowe went over for his second five minutes later, crashing over from close range after Stuart McCloskey took them close.
However, crucially, Jackson missed the conversion keeping the Ulstermen outside of losing bonus point range, although in the end it wasn’t to prove costly.
With Morgan Parra having to leave the field injured it was down to Lopez to add a penalty to secure the win, before Paddy Jackson deliberately knocked the ball on at the line with two minutes to go, giving him a yellow card and Clermont and a penalty try.
Ulster’s European dream isn’t over yet, but they will need the maximum haul from their final two games to stand a chance, and that will be a tough ask.
Scorers for Clermont:
Tries: Toeava, Abendanon (2), Lopez, Penalty
Cons: Parra (4 from 4), Lopez (1 from 1)
Pen: Parra (0 from 1), Lopez (1 from 1)
Scorers for Ulster:
Tries: Bowe (2), Herring
Cons: Jackson (2 from 3)
ASM Clermont Auvergne:
(15-9) Isaia Toeava (Aurélien Rougerie 57), Noa Nakaitaci, Rémi Lamerat (Patricio Fernandez 78), Wesley Fofana, Nick Abendanon, Camille Lopez, Morgan Parra (Ludovic Radosavljevic 69); (1-8) Etienne Falgoux (Thomas Domingo 57), Benjamin Kayser (John Ulugia 54), Davit Zirakashvili (Michaël Simutoga 66) Arthur Iturria (Flip van der Merwe 66), Sébastien Vahaamahina, Viktor Kolelishvili (Peceli Yato 54), Alexandre Lapandry, Damien Chouly.
(15-9) Charles Piutau, Tommy Bowe (Jacob Stockdale 71), Luke Marshall (Darren Cave 50), Stuart McCloskey, Louis Ludik, Paddy Jackson (yellow card, 77′), Ruan Pienaar (Paul Marshall 65); (1-8) Kyle McCall (Andy Warwick 19), Rory Best (Rob Herring 60), Wiehahn Herbst (Rodney Ah You 50), Pete Browne (Kieran Treadwell 50), Franco van der Merwe, Iain Henderson, Chris Henry (Clive Ross 66), Sean Reidy.
Man of the Match: Rémi Lamerat (Clermont)
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
This article was updated with copy from the venue.
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