Ulster rock Clermont to score memorable Heineken Cup win in France
Heineken Champions Cup Pool A: ASM Clermont Auvergne 23 Ulster 29
ASM Clermont Auvergne may have what Kieran Treadwell described as rock star players, but it was Ulster that brought some rock n’ roll rugby to the Stade Marcel Michelin on Saturday evening as Dan McFarland’s side got their Heineken Champions Cup campaign off to a winning start.
Tries from Stuart McCloskey and Nick Timoney along with 19 points from the boot of John Cooney saw Ulster record an historic first win at the famous French venue.
The win, however, was marred by an injury to winger Robert Baloucoune.
The Irish international was forced to leave the field of play in the 36th minute after a dangerous tip tackle from Clermont second row Jacobus Van Tonder.
Van Tonder somewhat fortunate to have only escaped with a yellow card punishment.
It leaves Ulster without Balocoune for next week’s game with Northampton at least.
“He’s not going to be playing next week, put it like. But I don’t know how serious he is at the minute,” commentated McFarland afterwards.
Running the ball at every opportunity, Ulster had Clermont in all sorts of trouble straight from the kick off and they made that good start count on the scoreboard too.
Three penalties from Cooney gave Ulster the early initiative and after 26 minutes Stuart McCloskey crossed the line for the games first try.
Cooney kicked the extras for a commanding and deserving 16-0 lead.
But the home side came roaring back into the contest with inspired displays from French international Damian Penaud and former Munster out-half, JJ Hanrahan.
Two tries from Penaud after 35 and 57 minutes respectively brought his side back into the contest and with Hanrahan inspired in both open play and with the boot, Clermont led going into the final quarter 20-19.
The game was starting to take a similar pattern to Ulster’s previous visit to Clermont in January 2020.
On that occasion, Ulster also dominated the early exchanges only for the Clermont to storm back and take the win, and going into the final quarter, all the momentum was with the home team.
"The last time we came here we played really well in the first half and then the game slipped away from us in that just before half-time, just after-half-time period," said McFarland.
"Good teams are able to squeeze you at that period if they're a little behind. Today they did squeeze us just before half-time in that third quarter."
But a line break from James Hume gave Ulster some much needed territory and just two minutes later, they were back in front.
Another line break, this time from Michael Lowry caused panic in the home defence and the ball found its way to Timoney who touched down, only for referee Barnes to call play back for what he believed to be an Ulster knock-on.
However, after reviewing the incident with the TMO, Timoney’s try was allowed to stand and Clermont lost full back Cheik Tierghien to a yellow card for a deliberate knock-on.
Minutes later Cooney’s fifth penalty of the evening confirmed the win before Hanrahan’s last second penalty ensured that Clermont picked up a losing bonus point for their efforts.
Speaking after the game, a delighted McFarland spoke of what the victory meant to his team.
“You know, I’m so proud of the lads on what they done today. I think that’s really a victory we should be proud of,” he said.
“It’s a terrific achievement to come and win in Europe, in Clermont at any stage for any team, I think.
“They’re a great team. They’re probably not playing their best rugby at the moment. They still have the same players who are able to do amazing stuff.
“They demonstrated that in the game and I thought we played really well.