Clermont break Tigers' hearts
Clermont break Tigers' heartsSHARE
It is 75 and counting for ASM Clermont Auvergne, but heartbreak for never-say-die Leicester Tigers.
Tigers gave the French side a real scare before Vern Cotter's team extended their incredible Stade Marcel Michelin winning run to that new mark – a 22-16 win..
Former double European Cup champions Leicester looked down and out at the break at 12 points adrift, but the boot of Owen Williams pulled them back into the contest before a late yellow card for replacement Thomas Waldrom took the steam out of their fight-back.
And now it is Aurelien Rougerie and his teammates who can look forward to a semifinal clash with either Ulster or Saracens in three weeks' time.
The high octane head-to-head between the Tigers, the five times finalists and contesting the tournament knock-out stages for the 12th time, and Clermont, the 2013 finalists and through to the knock-out stages for sixth time, lived up to all its pre-match billing.
The deadlock was broken after 14 minutes courtesy of Morgan Parra's left boot, but while he was on target with his penalty goal chance halfback partner Brock James was then wide with a drop-goal effort.
The mutual respect each team had for the other was evident in the opening exchanges of what was still a very fast start with Wesley Fofana having one scintillating break.
And it was no great surprise when the mercurial French centre got the first try after a strong run by Rougerie complimented by a delightful inside pass from prop Davit Zirakashvili. Parra added the extra points and Clermont were into a double points advantage.
Parra promptly made it an ominous gap of 13 points with his second penalty while Williams failed to open the Tigers' with his first penalty chance – but there was only inches in it as his effort hit the top of the flag on top of the posts and went agonisingly wide.
Clermont were dominating possession and Parra kicked them even further ahead with another penalty but then Leicester got into the match in scintillating style.
Welshman Williams' cross-kick found Blaine Scully who did brilliantly to find the supporting No.8 Jordan Crane for a cracking try, Williams converted and Clermont were reminded they had a real contest on their hands, despite being clearly the better side on the day, and went back into a double-points lead thanks to another Parra penalty moments before the break.
But it was first blood of the second half to the Tigers as Williams blasted a penalty goal over from two metres inside his own half only for Parra to miss his chance with the boot at the other end.
That looked as if it could be costly as Williams was on target with his and Leicester's third penalty – another monster long range strike – and then James was wide with a chance for the home side.
And suddenly with the match going into the final quarter there was just three points in it, the totally committed United States international Blaine Scully grabbing a Williams high kick and Williams profiting with another penalty.
But replacement back row forward Waldrom was yellow carded just minutes after entering the fray and Parra landed the penalty.
And although the Tigers fought to the final whistle in the last minute they were a matter of metres from the Clermont line when they were penalised for holding on and Clermont had held on for home win No.75 on the bounce and a place in the semi-finals in three weeks time..
For Clermont Auvergne:
Pen: Parra 5
For Leicester Tigers:
Pens: Williams 3
Yellow card: Thomas Waldrom (Leicester Tigers, 65 – foul play, collapsing maul)
Clermont Auvergne: 15 Jean-Marcellin Buttin, 14 Noa Nakaitaci, 13 Aurelien Rougerie (captain), 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Naipolioni Nalaga, 10 Brock James, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Damien Chouly, 6 Julien Bonnaire, 5 Nathan Hines, 4 Jamie Cudmore, 3 Davit Zirakashvili, 2 Benjamin Kayser, 1 Thomas Domingo.
Replacements: 16 Ti'i Paulo, 17 Vincent Debaty, 18 Clément Ric, 19 Julien Piere, 20 Alexandre Lapandry, 21 Thierry Lacrampe, 22 Mike Delany, 23 Benson Stanley.
Leicester Tigers: 15 Matthew Tait, 14 Blaine Scully, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Anthony Allen, 11 Niki Goneva, 10 Owen Williams, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Jordan Crane, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Jamie Gibson, 5 Ed Slater (captain), 4 Louis Deacon, 3 Logovi'i Mulipola, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Replacements: 16 Rob Hawkins, 17 Boris Stankovich, 18 Fraser Balmain, 19 Graham Kitchener, 20 Thomas Waldrom, 21 David Mele, 22 Toby Flood, 23 Scott Hamilton.
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ire)
Assistant referees: George Clancy, David Wilkinson (both Ire)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ire)