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Cotter's still up for the cup

New Scotland coach Vern Cotter has stressed the need for Heineken Cup rugby to continue next season.

Cotter saw his Clermont Auvergne team take another major stride towards the Heineken quarter-finals this term with an away victory against the Scarlets that tightened their grip on Pool Four.

Clermont have unfinished business in Europe after finishing runners-up to Toulon last May, and to win the trophy would be a dream farewell for Cotter, who takes over as Scotland supremo next summer.

But the Heineken Cup's future is shrouded by uncertainty, with no decisions yet made on what format it might take, which teams will participate, who will run it and even whether it will continue at all.

"I hope they are going to find a solution," said Cotter, reflecting on the continuing political struggles.

"The Heineken is a great competition and we need it to continue. Our players really enjoy it. It is an international competition, it is a step up, it develops players and it develops countries.

"They (administrators) are all good-thinking people. I am sure they will find a solution to keep the competition going in some form with everyone involved."

Clermont, bonus point victors over the Scarlets last weekend, repeated that feat after refusing to be blown off a quarter-final course in wet and windy Llanelli as wing Napolioni Nalaga's double and Fritz Lee's touchdown complemented a 60th-minute penalty try.

Mike Delany kicked a penalty and conversion, while Brock James added three conversions for a 31-13 success.

The Scarlets did not score a second-half point after leading 13-10 at the break through centre Gareth Maule's try, plus eight points from fly-half Rhys Priestland's boot.

It means the Scarlets are now facing a pool stage exit for the sixth successive European campaign, but Clermont are eight points clear of second-placed Harlequins, who host Racing Metro on Sunday.

"It was a tough game," Cotter added.

"We couldn't develop our game, and in the second half we had to play more territory, reduce the number of passes and work on wearing them down.

"Our scrum gave us access and put pressure on the Scarlets. The penalty try psychologically might have hurt them. We stuck at it, and got our reward.

"It was nice to see the guys weren't satisfied just with the win. They wanted to go further and had the ambition to go for the bonus point. It has put us in a good position in the group."

The Scarlets made a nightmare start, conceding a try to Nalaga after just 17 seconds - and there now appears no way back for them ahead of remaining European appointments next month with Racing Metro and Quins.

"We gifted them 14 points with a try at the start of the game and then a charge-down in the second half," Scarlets head coach Simon Easterby said.

"When you back that up with our little bit of inaccuracy and execution with the ball, then it is not going to be an easy game to win.

"We worked hard over 160 minutes across two games against them, but the scoreboard doesn't lie. That is the way it is, and we've got to deal with it.

"The disappointent this week is that we gave ourselves opportunities, but we were poor in our execution. Against a team like that you are not going to get many opportunites, and we bombed too many."


From Belfast Telegraph