Montpellier fail to crack 'fortress' Clermont

Clermont extended their unbeaten home streak to 53 games on Saturday with an ultimately convincing 36-18 victory over 2011 French championship finalists Montpellier.

Montpellier's prop Erasmus Van Vuuren (C) is tackled by Clermont's players on January 5, 2013 in Clermont-Ferrand, France. Clermont extended their unbeaten home streak to 53 games with a convincing 36-18 victory over the 2011 French championship finalists.

Victory saw the 2010 champions consolidate second place in the Top 14 table, three points behind Toulon, who are at home to Racing-Metro on Sunday, while Montpellier, who have not won in 12 visits to Clermont and conceded 34 points on average, remained in the top six.

Clermont head coach Vern Cotter wasn't entirely happy with his side's performance, blaming it on a mixture of his rotating the team line-up and their minds being on next weekend's European Cup pool clash with English side Exeter.

"We know that if we beat Exeter we have the possibility of qualifying and maybe even for the first time hosting a quarter-final," said Cotter, whose side have not lost in Clermont since a defeat by Biarritz in 2009 although they did lose to eventual champions Leinster in Bordeaux in last season's 'home' European Cup semi-final.

Clermont had been on the back foot early on when Argentinian prop Maximiliano Bustos charged over to touch down after a fine pass by France fly-half Francois Trinh-Duc had created the opening - it was converted to give the visitors a 7-0 lead.

However, Clermont hit back as a superb inside pass by Brock James sent Wesley Fofana bursting through to touch down under the posts and Morgan Parra converted to level the scores.

Parra and Montpellier's place kicker, Argentinian Martin Bustos Moyano, swapped penalties to keep the sides all square but a moment of magic by Fofana set up Clermont's second try.

The France centre took the ball outside the Montpellier 22, eyed up visiting scrum-half Julien Tomas then stepped up a gear and breezed past him before offloading the ball to fullback Jean-Marcellin Butin, who touched down in the corner.

Parra converted for 17-10.

Clermont were reduced to 14 men shortly before the break when veteran Nathan Hines was sin-binned but the visitors were unable to take advantage and it was the hosts who extended their lead to 23-13 by the time the Australia-born former Scottish international returned to the fray.

Parra added two further penalties to stretch the lead to 29-13, Montpellier's Charles Geli yellow-carded with 12 minutes remaining.

Clermont were shortly afterwards awarded a penalty try which Parra converted to take his points tally to 21 for the match with the visitors replying with a nicely worked try by replacement Benoit Paillaugue in the dying minutes.

In the late match, bottom side Mont-de-Marsan came close to springing a major surprise over third-placed Toulouse, but the champions held on for a hard-fought 16-12 win, with hooker-cum-coach William Servat scoring the game's sole try.

Full-back Jerome Porcial earlier kicked seven penalties to hand Stade Francais a much-needed 21-13 victory over Bayonne, while David Mele was in identical kicking form to help Perpignan to a 26-16 win at home over struggling Bordeaux-Begles.

The shock of the night was Grenoble's 14-12 victory over fourth-placed Castres, the southeastern club's 24th consecutive home victory since May 2011.

The result pushed them into fifth place and virtually guaranteed that they remain in the Top 14 after promotion from the Pro D2 last year.

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Writer: AFP
Position: News agency