Clermont Auvergne 29 – 13 Ulster
A powerful second-half performance from Clermont Auvergne saw the French side secure the win over Ulster in the top of the table Pool 3 clash.
Ulster got off to a great start and showed their running intent from the off. A Stuart McCloskey linebreak and offload to Jacob Stockdale saw Ulster go deep into the Clermont 22. Dan McFarland’s side continued to get over the gainline and they took their three points through the boot of John Cooney when Sebastien Vahaamahina went off his feet at the ruck.
Camille Lopez got his side level when he knocked over a drop goal minutes later but Ulster soon took the lead again after some superb interplay between Jack McGrath, Sean Reidy and Marty Moore allowed John Cooney to break through the Clermont defence to touch down next to the posts to extend his superb try-scoring form. Cooney converted his try to give his side a 3-10 lead.
At the midway point of the first half, Ulster went off their feet at the ruck and this gave Morgan Parra the opportunity to get his side back within four points.
Ulster then had a great opportunity to drive home their advantage as Parra was sent to the sin bin for tackling Cooney from an offside position. As a result, the game really opened up and the northern province had two good try-scoring opportunities with penalties kicked to the corner but they came up short on both occasions while Clermont almost scored a try in the corner except for a try-saving tackle from Robert Baloucoune.
Finally, as the half came to a close, Parra on his return to the field added another three points after referee Matthew Carley pinged the northern province for offside. This gave Ulster a narrow 10-9 lead at halftime.
Clermont would have been disappointed when Parra missed a penalty at the beginning of the second half but the rest of the second period was then characterised by the French side’s scrum dominance.
This gave them access into the Ulster 22 and Alivereti Raka stretched and touched down in the corner to get his side’s first try of the game and the lead. Parra’s conversion from the left-hand touchline was accurate to give Clermont a 10-16 lead.
Cooney brought it back to a three-point game with a penalty of his own before Marcell Coetzee played the ball on the deck which allowed Parra to restore his side’s six-point lead with just over 10 minutes remaining.
Ulster’s scrum continued to leak penalties and Greig Laidlaw, who came on for Parra, kicked another three points from the tee to bring it out to a two-score game.
Clermont finally put some gloss on the scoreline in the closing moments as the dangerous George Moala crossed the whitewash after a superb carry.
The French side have now guaranteed their progression into the last eight while Ulster will be confident of joining them when they welcome Bath to Belfast next weekend.