Clermont overpower Ulster to take control of Champions Cup pool

Alivereti Raka’s 49th minute try gave Clermont their first lead of the gameEuropean Champions Cup: Clermont Auvergne v UlsterClermont Auvergne (9) 29Try: Raka, Moala Con: Parra, Laidlaw Pens: Parra 3, Laidlaw Drop-goal: LopezUlster (10) 13Try: Cooney Con: Cooney Pen: Cooney 2A powerful second-half display saw Clermont Auvergne take control of European Champions Cup Pool Three with a 29-13 win over Ulster.John Cooney’s early converted try and penalty gave Ulster a deserved one-point lead at half-time.However, the hosts took over after the break scoring 20 points including tries from Alivereti Raka and George Moala.With their last-eight berth secured, Clermont can book a home quarter-final with victory against Harlequins.Ulster can still qualify for the quarter-finals with a win against Bath next weekend.They now await news on both Will Addison and Marty Moore, who were forced from the field with injury in the second half.Ulster fail to capitalise on first-half territoryWith the game likely to decide the pool winner, the match began at a ferocious tempo with Ulster carrying their momentum from consecutive inter-provincial wins into Stade Marcel Michelin.Stuart McCloskey’s break and offload saw the visitors move within metres of Clermont’s line in the opening minute, before Cooney was given the opportunity to kick the opening penalty.

John Cooney scored his ninth try of the season to give Ulster the lead in the eighth minuteUlster’s early confidence was flowing an in the eighth minute forwards Moore, Sean Reidy and Jack McGrath combined to send Cooney scampering through for his ninth try of a prolific campaign.By contrast, Clermont were tepid in the opening exchanges barring Camille Lopez’s drop-goal and on 22 minutes were reduced to 14-men with Morgan Parra sent to the sin-bin.However the visitors were unable to make their numerical advantage count, spurning several promising openings inside Clermont territory.As the game grew, so to did Clermont’s menacing physical threat with Raka causing havoc when given space to run, while only a try-saving tackle from Robert Baloucoune stopped Moala crossing in the corner.Hosts let loose after breakIn the reverse fixture in Belfast two months ago, Clermont failed to spark into life at any point as they limped to a disappointing defeat.After an uninspired first half, they returned to the field with a renewed vigour and overturned two Ulster scrums inside the opening seven minutes to seize the momentum.Wing Raka put his side ahead as he held off three tacklers to stretch and just reach the whitewash.Trailing by six having been on the back foot since the break, Ulster rallied but could not break through Clermont’s stubborn defence.A Cooney penalty narrowed the deficit to three points as the visitors sought to set up a tight finish, but the French side were too clever at the breakdown and suffocating up front.Following penalties from Morgan Parra and replacement Greig Laidlaw, Moala had the final say with three minutes remaining, barrelling down the left wing to put an exclamation point on Clermont’s victory. Clermont Auvergne: Abendanon, Penaud, Isaiah Toeava, Moala, Raka, Lopez, Parra (capt); Falgoux, Ulugia, Slimani, Jedrasiak, Vahaamahina, Iturria, Lapandry, Lee.Replacements: Beheregaray, Uhila, Falatea, Timani, Fischer, Laidlaw, McIntyre, Naqalevu,Ulster: Addison; Baloucoune, Marshall, McCloskey, Stockdale; Burns, Cooney; McGrath, Herring, Moore; O’Connor, Henderson (capt); Reidy, Murphy, Coetzee.Replacements: McBurney, O’Sullivan, O’Toole, Treadwell, Matthew Rea, Shanahan, Johnston, Faddes.Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)

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