Ulster capitulate in the second half as Clermont Auvergne run up half century

Richie Murphy’s side were no match physically for the France Top 14 outfit

Challenge Cup quarter-final: Clermont Auvergne 53 Ulster 14

Ulster’s hopes of making the European Challenge Cup semi-finals were simply obliterated by a rampant Clermont who scored seven tries in what turned into a second-half rout at Stade Marcel-Michelin.

The northern province had no answer to the power Clermont brought to the contest and after trailing 20-14 at the break, the visitors went on to concede 33 unanswered points and fell well short in containing the uber physicality of Peceli Yato and Pita Gus Sowakula who both scored two tries each.

“We weren’t good enough and there’s a lot of stuff we need to look at,” interim coach Richie Murphy admitted afterwards, Nick Timoney’s two first-half tries not being added to by the province in a scoreless second 40 minutes.

“The scoreboard pressure swings the crowd pressure and it all swings on top of you,” he added as Ulster now turn their sole focus to the URC.

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The visitors had the ideal start when Timoney got on the ball after the province had opted for a tap and go under the Clermont posts, which John Cooney converted.

Six minutes later Clermont tied things up. A penalty put towards the corner led to a lineout, Baptiste Januneau made ground down the blindside before Yato was put through a gap to score. Anthony Belleau converted.

The Clermont outhalf then put his side in front for the first time with a 28th-minute penalty and increased their lead shortly afterwards after Rob Baloucoune was penalised for a block on Aliveriti Raka.

It soon became 20-7 for the home team when a penalty was put to the corner and from the lineout a steaming run from Léon Darricarrere allowed Sowakula to smash his way over, which Belleau again converted.

But not long after a Sowakula tap tackle on Nathan Doak had saved a potential score. And with the clock in red, Ulster put a kickable penalty to the corner and from some muscular close-in work Timoney got through for his second, Cooney’s conversion making it 20-14 at half-time.

Even though Belleau missed an early penalty he converted from a challenging angle after Alex Newsome scampered down the narrow side, the conversion taking the lead to 27-14.

From there, Ulster imploded. Sowakula mauled over for his second and Rob Simmons burst through off a lineout turnover.

And it got worse, Yato went over again on 68 minutes, with Joris Jurand doing likewise in the final minute.

CLERMONT: A Newsome; B Delguy, L Darricarrere, J Heriteau, A Raka; A Belleau, B Jauneau (capt); G Beria, Y Beheregaray, R Slimani; T Lanen, T Lavanini; K Tixeront, P Yato, P- G Sowakula.

Replacements: A Fischer for Tixeront (49 mins); E Fourcade for Beheregaray (50); D-B Biziwu for Beria, G Dzmanashvili for Slimani (53); R Simmons for Lanen (54); S Bezy for Jauneau (55); T Giral for Lavanini, J Jurand for Raka (both 67).

ULSTER: S Moore; R Baloucoune, J Hume, S McCloskey, M Lowry; N Doak, J Cooney; S Kitshoff, R Herring, T O’Toole; A O’Connor, I Henderson (capt); H Sheridan, David McCann, N Timoney.

Replacements: E McIlroy for Moore (5 mins); T Stewart for Herring (41); D Ewers for Henderson (42); S Wilson for O’Toole (51}; Marcus Rea for Timoney (54); A Warwick for Kitshoff (55); C Izuchukwu for O’Connor (64). Unused: J Flannery.

Referee: C Ridley (England).

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