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Clermont’s lightning strike catches the Basques cold
The phrase “Dream start” is often overused, but Clermont’s bonus point humbling of Biarritz, after a four try blitz in the first half an hour, must fall into that category. Additionally the “yellow and Blues” avoided having their try line crossed for the third consecutive match, giving them the best defensive standing in France.
And as for doing it in style, following the poor fare offered at last week’s game in Castres, a packed Stade Marcel Michelin, bathed in a warm early Autumn sun, witnessed their team giving the most complete performance for some time. The quality of the attack in the first half was matched by the quality of the defense in the second. Clermont ran onto the field in determined fashion, eager to silence the doubters criticising their start to the season. After a multi-phased attack, the much vaunted Biarrot defense gave out as Julien Malzieu, was sent over by Pierre Mignoni after only 9 minutes. Before the Clermont supporters could catch breath, a Gonzalo Canale tackle forced a drop ball on the Clermont 22m line during a Biarritz attack. Marius Joubert gratefully scooped up the ball and the ‘Big Bokke’ ran in un-opposed from 70m, James again converted. The looks exchanged between the Basque players told its own story but Clermont were far from finished. The ever dominant Clermont pack were providing an abundance of ball for their three quarters, who were revelling in the free flowing game like kids in a sweet shop. Another Biarritz turnover, led to an Anthony Floch try after a clean break having ran a tight line near a ruck and cutting through the defense like a hot knife through butter. The score under the posts was converted by the dependable James. That was the bonus point try, but just for good measure Clermont ensured that their supporters were rewarded for their increasingly fervent noise, by scoring a fourth try through that ‘Wallbreaker’ Nalaga who shrugged off two tackles and rode a third to score Clermont’s fourth try. All that action coupled with a solitary Courrent penalty for Biarritz, gave a score of 26-3 at half time, and a bewildered looking Biarritz team drifted into their changing room with little optimism.
Certainly Biarritz couldn’t play much worse, and they started the 2nd half more positively and secured, and maintained a lot more possession. However their play was too lateral and their attempted offloads, meat and drink to a hungry Clermont defense . Audebert and Bonnaire led the charge making decisive tackles, scything down the opposition and forcing turnovers. An ever present Julien Pierre has more than found his mark in the Clermont ranks, after another bristling and aggressive showing. His contribution in an enthralling second half defensive display was a pleasure to watch, along with the tactical nouse of Brock James, whereas Biarritz looked a shadow of the team that once dominated French rugby. Harinordoquy, Thion, Traille and company were forced to play as a group of individuals, and by the end, it was hard to see where any inspiration could come from. Clermont finished the game with two additional Brock James penalties (52 and 72 mins), and play Bourgoin next week.
The next home match is the first Heineken cup game of the season against English pace setters, Sale on the 11th of October. Different competition, different refereeing, different styles but definitely one to watch.