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Henderson helps Ulster to impressive bonus-point win over Clermont

Les Kiss’ men were in try-scoring form at Kingspan Stadium.

Ulster 39

Clermont 32

Neil Carnduff reports from Kingspan Stadium

A CLASSIC EUROPEAN encounter this afternoon in Belfast saw five-try Ulster resist a late surge from pool-topping Clermont Auvergne to keep their Champions Cup hopes alive ahead of what will be an explosive return match at Stade Marcel Michelin next Sunday.

Charles Piutau celebrates scoring a try with Tommy Bowe, Paddy Jackson and Ruan Pienaar Ulster notched a crucial bonus-point win. Source: Presseye/Darren Kidd/INPHO

Ulster’s firepower has rarely been better this season as tries from Luke Marshall (2), Iain Henderson, Paddy Jackson and Charles Piutau carved out a 21-point advantage, which the French gamely clawed back to seven in the final quarter to return home with two bonus points.

At the half-way stage in the pool games Clermont sit on 12 points with Ulster second on nine, although the French outfit have a further advantage of two home ties still to play, as opposed to Ulster’s solitary remaining match at the Kingspan against Bordeaux-Begles.

The northern province welcomed Rory Best and Paddy Jackson back into the fold after their successful Autumn international series with Ireland, and while some big names were missing – among them Jared Payne, Andrew Trimble and Craig Gilroy – the starting XV still comprised 11 full internationals.

Top 14 league leaders Clermont wasted no time in stamping their authority on the match, number eight Peceli Yato brushing off two tackles just short of the line to dive under the posts within ninety seconds after Ulster had fumbled the visitors’ kick-off.

But a sharp lay-off from Jackson to Marshall after good work from Sean Reidy, followed by the out-half’s conversion, had Ulster on level terms within seven minutes and rendered the strong travelling contingent somewhat less vociferous.

A Parra penalty soon raised the decibel level once more, as did a virtuoso midfield dash from Wesley Fofana until Ulster’s big hitters brought him to ground.

Then Piutau took over, bursting down the right wing in a move where only hesitation between the dummy and the final pass prevented the try.

Iain Henderson is presented with the Man of the Match award by Chris Mills Iain Henderson was man of the match. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Ulster did not relent, however, and with a penalty coming, a sublime crossfield kick from Jackson – and an equally impressive aerial take and offload from Tommy Bowe – let Henderson in unchallenged for a fantastic collective score.

Jackson and Parra traded penalties before a misfiring Ulster scrum let fullback Scott Spedding in for the try on the right wing just after the half-hour mark.

The hosts responded brightly, Reidy and Bowe combining well down the right flank before Jackson proved his footballing skills are not limited to kicking for touch or goal alone as he dribbled from the 22 through a static Clermont defence for a fine individual try.

Ulster kept up the tempo as the second half began, forcing a turnover scrum in the Clermont 22 from which the livewire Piutau gained vital yards before Stuart McCloskey’s carry and Ruan Pienaar’s flat pass let Marshall in for his second try and Ulster’s fourth.

Number five, however, was the pick of the bunch, as Piutau slalomed through four Clermont defenders off Jackson’s long pass before brushing aside a final challenge with the hand-off to ground by the corner flag.

A Jackson conversion and long-range penalty soon followed to put the result beyond doubt – but there was still the matter of depriving the visitors of bonus points – four-try or losing margin – to address.

Nick Abendanon made the task all the more difficult on 63 minutes with a well-taken score, but press as they might the French got no further change out of a stout Ulster defence until the 73rd minute when skipper Damien Chouly stretched over to secure one bonus point and give the visitors a very real chance of two.

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Paddy Jackson scores a try Jackson scored an excellent individual try. Source: Presseye/Darren Kidd/INPHO

Worse still came for Ulster a minute later when replacement prop Rodney Ah You saw yellow for a wild high tackle, but Les Kiss’s side then knuckled down to wisely see the game out with slow ball on half-way.

Ulster scorers:

Tries: Luke Marshall (2), Iain Henderson, Paddy Jackson, Charles Piutau

Conversions: Paddy Jackson (4)

Penalties: Paddy Jackson (2)

Clermont scorers:

Tries: Peceli Yato, Scott Spedding, Nick Abendanon, Damien Chouly

Conversions: Morgan Parra (3)

Penalties: Morgan Parra (2)

ULSTER: Charles Piutau; Tommy Bowe, Luke Marshall, Stuart McCloskey, Louis Ludik; Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar; Kyle McCall, Rory Best (c), Wiehahn Herbst, Pete Browne, Robbie Diack, Iain Henderson, Chris Henry, Sean Reidy.

Replacements: Rob Herring, Andy Warwick, Rodney Ah You, Kieran Treadwell, Clive Ross, Paul Marshall, Darren Cave, Jacob Stockdale

CLERMONT: Scott Spedding; David Strettle, Remi Lamerat, Wesley Fofana, Nick Abendanon; Camille Lopez, Morgan Parra; Raphael Chaume, Benjamin Kayser, Davit Zirakashvili, Flip van der Merwe, Sebastien Vahaamahina, Damien Chouly (c), Alexandre Lapandry, Peceli Yato.

Replacements: Yohan Beheregaray, Etienne Falgoux, Clement Ric, Sitaleki Timani, Camille Gerondeau, Ludovic Radosavljevic, Benson Stanley, Alivereti Raka.

Referee: Wayne Barnes [RFU].

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Neil Carnduff

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