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Clermont’s 2008 Heineken Cup campaign got off to a poor start with a home defeat to English pacesetters, Sale. The Englishmen will return home to Manchester with a bonus point after scoring 4 tries in a match where they showed patience, efficiency and that they were more streetwise than their French hosts.
Both teams lined up with a few injury absentees, notably Canale and Joubert for Clermont, and Hodgeson and Sheridan for the visitors. The thermometer showed 24°,and blue skies and a record breaking packed house ensured a great atmosphere - the expectation was there for Clermont to put on a great show. Indeed they started brightly, despite going behind to an early McAllister penalty, and played some good dynamic rugby, the highlight being the attempted James cross kick that Nalaga fumbled with only one defender in front of him. Sale however never really looked panicked and were able to slow down Clermont’s rhythm at the breakdown, and frustratingly for the home support with a string of injuries that really led to a fragmented 1st half. A typical Dwayne Peel break led to a try for Doherty on the wing, and all Clermont really had to show for the first half was a bone shattering tackle by Seramaia Bai on Chabal and a couple of powerful charges by Julien Malzieu and captain Elvis Vermeulen. At the turnaround the score was 13-6, the Englishmen certainly more happy than their French equivalents.
Clermont tried to play territorially in the second half, but the patience of Sale’s defense coupled with the class of McAlister put paid to their ambitions. The former All Black galloped in for a try after 52 minutes, after Clermont were turned over at the breakdown. He converted his own try, then one by Keil after 73 minutes. The game finished with a Mark Cueto try to give Sale the bonus point and they must now be in a position to make a real push to win what must be one of the more difficult pools. Clermont were simply beaten by a team that played more efficient rugby and took their chances well. They play Montauban next Sunday at 4pm.
The game was marred by the death of a supporter at the beginning of the match. Mr. Pradel suffered what appeared to be a heart attack whilst sitting in the stands, and the emergency services were unable to revive him. The Club’s condolences go out to his wife and family.