Belfast Telegraph

Vengeful Clermont aiming to unleash all their power on Ulster

The Other Side

By Michael Sadlier

Afterwards, there was a considerable gathering of yellow and blue outside the door where the team were about to make their exit from the Kingspan.

Such is the way with Clermont. There is always total commitment from their impressively loyal supporter base and though this was a first taste of defeat in Europe, after their two impressive bonus-point victories, what was witnessed late last Saturday afternoon was no witch-hunt.

Instead, this was about commiserating while there was also a certain sense of relief after Les Jaunards had come back into the game from 39-18 down to ultimately score four tries and also glean a losing bonus point as well.

So, though Franck Azema's pretty much fully-loaded side had been downed, and just when a third straight European win would have set them up nicely towards progressing out of the group, they were taking their leave of Belfast with what could be two extremely vital points.

And that off-set any overwhelming sense of gloom at what had occurred even though Clermont had surrendered a seemingly ruinous 24 unanswered points to Ulster between the latter stages of the first half to just before the hour mark.

Some French sides would have just rolled over and taken their punishment, but that's not in Clermont's psyche. Instead, they gathered themselves and, without frills, kept things tight to bludgeon their way right back into contention.

So, there was still plenty of optimism in the air, regarding tomorrow's rematch, as the supporters awaited their team, which was perfectly understandable as the current Top 14 pacemakers, generally, don't suffer many defeats at the intimidating Stade Marcel Michelin.

And, yet, there was plenty to unsettle Azema and his coaching team. They had a dominant scrum, a greater share of possession and territory while, in Wesley Fofana, the French had a player who was able to shred much of Ulster's first-up tackling. And they still lost.

Despite Peceli Yato's first-minute try, they never looked in control of the game while conceding 17 turnovers was fundamental to how the game got away.

There could well be a growing sense of unease to them as well as last Saturday was a third defeat from their last four games though, admittedly, all those reverses have been away from the apparent security of home.

And home is where Clermont are at their most robust, though a number of Top 14 sides have run them very close at Stade Marcel Michelin.

They will come out with a bristling intent on battering Ulster into an early submission but this could easily backfire if they don't get the scoreboard moving fairly quickly.

The French also know that they mustn't allow themselves to fall into the choke tackle trap while some protection will also have to be provided for winger Noa Nakaitaci - restored due to David Strettle's injury - under the high balls which are sure to rain down on him.

It's all about getting on the front foot and staying there for Clermont. Physically they are again mighty in the pack where there are three changes and a positional switch for skipper Damien Chouly.

The bench is loaded with power too and Thomas Domingo, Yato and Flip van der Merwe await.

But by that stage the hope is that all their brawn, allied to the Morgan Parra, Camille Lopez and Fofana axis, will have done enough to put them back in the Pool Five driving seat.

Belfast Telegraph

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