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Clermont Auvergne see off Exeter in impressive showing

French heavyweights Clermont Auvergne made an immediate statement of intent in the European Champions Cup as they dealt Exeter's Pool Five qualification hopes a major setback at Sandy Park.

Exeter, who beat Clermont comfortably on home soil last season before being crushed in the return fixture, were blown away by first-half tries from flanker Julien Bardy, wing Noa Nakaitaci and centre Wesley Fofana during a devastatng 15-minute spell before they eventually subsided 35-8.

The current French Top leaders, beaten Champions Cup finalists in 2015, were ruthless in the final third.

And Exeter had no answer as former Bath full-back Nick Abendanon claimed a bonus-point touchdown just three minutes into the second period, before Fofana added another try, while scrum-half Morgan Parra kicked four conversions and substitute Pato Fernandez one.

Gareth Steenson kicked an early penalty for Exeter, and Sam Hill added a late try, yet even when they had spells of dominating possession, the home side could find no way through a superbly-organised Clermont defence until injury time.

Their victory might not have matched Saracens' defeat of Toulon in France on Saturday as the high point of this season's opening European weekend, but Clermont are majestically off and running in pursuit of a trophy they have never won.

A minute's silence was observed before kick-off in memory of Munster head coach Anthony Foley, who died overnight in Paris, as players and supporters at Sandy Park paid tribute to the 42-year-old.

Exeter, with a gusting wind behind them, took charge of early territory and Steenson kicked them into a seventh-minute lead after Clermont lock Sebestien Vahaamahina was guilty of a high tackle, and Chiefs centres Hill and Ollie Devoto cutting sharp attacking angles, the visitors were tested defensively.

Clermont, having opted to play against the wind in the first-half, restricted Exeter to a solitary Steenson strike following an opening quarter high on endeavour and some crunching tackling, and they almost pounced when Parra broke clear, but England wing David Strettle could not gather his pass.

The visitors, though, did not have to wait much longer for an opening try, which had its origins in some strong work by Fofana before Nakaitaci delivered an exquisite inside pass and Bardy finished off impressively.

Parra made light of the testing conditions by effortlessly landing the touchline conversion attempt, and Clermont were off and running, with a second try following just four minutes later after Parra's high kick was gathered and slickly moved, with Naikataci crossing wide out.

Another Parra conversion made it 14-3, and Exeter's evening showed no immediate sign of improving as hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie, a member of Eddie Jones' England elite player squad, was helped off injured before scrum-half Dave Lewis saw a try rightly disallowed for offside.

Exeter needed to strike before the break, yet Clermont pounded again as they cut the Chiefs' defence to shreds when fly-half Camille Lopez glided effortlessly past Steenson and handed Fofana a simple finish.

Parra's conversion then took Clermont 18 points clear, giving Exeter a second-half mountain to climb after their opponents have delivered a master-class in the art of finishing.

But the Chiefs were powerless to keep Clermont at bay, and a fourth try arrived with indecent haste when Strettle and number eight Fritz Lee linked impressively, creating sufficient space for a trademark Abendanon finish.

Exeter plugged away in pursuit of a consolation score, but Clermont were having none of it, even when they temporarily went down to 14 men after lock Flip van der Merwe was sin-binned for a technical offence, and Fofana's second try underlined a considerable gap in class before Hill touched down in the dying seconds.


From Belfast Telegraph