As we re-live Ulster’s second Heineken Champions Cup game of the 2019/20 season against French heavyweights ASM Clermont Auvergne, we take a look back at the match report from that phenomenal game in November.
Ulster’s second Heineken Champions Cup win from two put them in the Pool Three driving seat, as tries from Jordi Murphy and John Cooney sent French heavyweights ASM Clermont Auvergne back home with a losing bonus point.
A pumped-up Ulster were too much for the side that pulverised Harlequins 53 – 21 at the Stade Marcel-Michelin in Round One, with Cooney and Marcell Coetzee once again outstanding amid stellar performances all across the board.
Ulster now sit atop the group on eight points, two ahead of Clermont in advance of December’s home and away double-header with Quins.
Four changes from the starting XV that recorded last weekend’s vital away win in Bath brought in Eric O’Sullivan at loosehead, Alan O’Connor at lock, Sean Reidy at blindside flanker and Louis Ludik – the sole change in the backline – on the wing.
The otherwise unchanged back seven comprised Will Addison at full-back, Jacob Stockdale on the left wing, Luke Marshall and Stuart McCloskey in midfield, and the half-back tandem of Billy Burns and Cooney.
Up front, hooker Rob Herring and tighthead Marty Moore completed the front row, with Iain Henderson skippering the side from lock, while openside Murphy and Number Eight Coetzee joined Reidy at the base of the scrum.
An immediate turnover as Nick Abendanon lost Cooney’s kickoff soon earned Ulster a penalty when Peceli Yato illegally collected at the breakdown, and the home scrum-half made no mistake from 30 metres to give his side an early advantage.
A second mistake under the high ball from the Clermont full-back gifted Ulster a halfway-line scrum, from which they made short work of breaking into the opposition ‘22’, with Burns, McCloskey and Cooney combining before the scrum-half was taken down only five metres from the whitewash, causing the knock-on.
Ulster continued to dominate their prestigious rivals, however, who repeatedly contrived to surrender possession virtually as soon as they obtained it, and when Murphy rumbled over for the try on 17 minutes from a forceful rolling maul, it was no more than what Ulster’s fantastic start deserved.
The Cooney conversion added to the visitors’ woe, as did a missed opportunity on 22 minutes when Alivereti Raka looked to have capitalised on a communication breakdown between Addison and Ludik to dot down in the corner, only for the TMO review to show a clear knock-on by the wing as he tried to bring a bobbling ball under control.
Back in the driving seat, Ulster came close again on 25 minutes when an inch-perfect crossfield kick from Burns dropped into Stockdale’s clutches, and only a last-gasp tackle from George Moala dragged the next ball recipient Marshall into touch five metres from home.
A debatable high tackle from Ludik gave Clermont a much-needed set-piece, but their nightmarish evening continued when John Ulugia’s crooked put-in brought their possession once again to a premature end. Another marginal call – this time Addison with a high challenge on second row Paul Jedrasiak – went unpunished, but Clermont soon opened their account courtesy of a Greig Laidlaw penalty just after the half-hour.
Cooney cancelled out his opposite number’s three points within moments when Jedrasiak’s replacement Thibault Lanen was pinged for failing to roll away, and the hosts closed out the half further frustrating the Frenchmen in midfield.
Half-Time Score Ulster 13 ASM Clermont Auvergne 3
Five minutes of ineffectual possession at the start of the second period pushed Clermont to replace their entire front row as well as Abendanon and out-half Jake McIntyre – regular first choice Camille Lopez taking over at ten – but the changes made no difference to their fortunes, as a 55th minute penalty from Laidlaw sailed left of the posts.
However the visitors began to establish a foothold in the game just before the hour, and when the next penalty came, this time for offside, the Scot dispatched his kick to bring his side back to within seven points.
Perhaps beginning to rue their failure to kill the game off in such a dominant first half, Ulster stepped up a gear from the restart, with Cooney once again the lynch-pin as he crafted himself a try not dissimilar to his score last week in Bath, picking up at the back of a maul and chipping Raka before dribbling over the line and touching down.
Cooney’s conversion missed, but with Clermont now five points adrift of even a losing bonus point, the Frenchmen forced their way into the Ulster ‘22’ for the very first time on 66 minutes, eventually forcing a penalty try four minutes later after three successive scrum infringements from the Ulster front row.
Now nursing a slight five-point lead, Ulster judiciously forced play well into the Clermont half, eating up a good seven minutes until another penalty gave Clermont their final shot at glory. Ulster just failed to snatch the turnover at the lineout as the clock tipped into red, but a final knock-on under pressure from Apisai Naqalevu sent his side home with the solitary bonus point.
Ulster attentions now focus back on the Guinness Pro14, with a match at home to Scarlets on Friday 29 November before Round Three of the Heineken Cup brings Harlequins to the Kingspan on Saturday 7 December.
Full-Time Score Ulster 18 ASM Clermont Auvergne 13
Ulster (15 – 9) Will Addison; Louis Ludik, Luke Marshall, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale; Billy Burns, John Cooney
(1 – 8) Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring, Marty Moore, Alan O’Connor, Iain Henderson (c), Sean Reidy, Jordi Murphy, Marcell Coetzee
Replacements (16 – 23) Adam McBurney, Kyle McCall, Tom O’Toole, Kieran Treadwell, Nick Timoney, David Shanahan, Bill Johnston, Craig Gilroy
ASM Clermont Auvergne (15 – 9) Nick Abendanon; Peter Betham, Isaiah Toeava, George Moala, Alivereti Raka; Jake McIntyre, Greig Laidlaw
(1 – 8) Etienne Falgoux, John Ulugia, Rabah Slimani, Paul Jedrasiak, Sitaleki Timani, Peceli Yato, Arthur Iturria, Fritz Lee (c)
Replacements (16 – 23) Mike Tadjer, Loni Uhila, Davit Zirakashvili, Thibault Lanen, Lucas Dessaigne, Morgan Parra, Camille Lopez, Apisai Naqalevu
Re-watch it here