Champions Cup: Five takeaways from Clermont v Leicester as the Tigers overpower the French outfit

 Credit: Alamy
Credit: Alamy

Following a 44-29 victory for Leicester Tigers over Clermont Auvergne in their Champions Cup fixture, here’s our five takeaways from the match at the Stade Marcel-Michelin on Friday.

The top line

This was an absolutely monumental win from Leicester Tigers, a victory that sealed their place in the knockout stages and perhaps saw them return from the mid-season wobble caused by losing their two senior coaches to England.

It was a result based upon tempo and physical impact. Tigers did everything at pace, from quick set-piece set-ups to decisive kick chasing and thunderous defensive work. If one was churlish, their midfield defence failed a few times to cope with the power runners of the Clermont midfield, but Tigers’ ability and eagerness to get themselves on the scoreboard kept them in front for long periods of the match.

With scrum dominance and legality at the heartbeat of their win, it was a Tigers side that returned to their DNA and produced a memorable night in the Massif Central – one that will rejuvenate their confidence and put them back into winning ways.

The Wigglesworth era

For Richard Wigglesworth, this might just be the moment his era as a Tigers head coach really started. Following the double act of Sinfield and Borthwick is a big ask and it was clear to all that Tigers were a little flat after their departure.

Given the litany of unavailability in the Tigers’ ranks, the fact they pulled off this win with a lot of fringe players and a back three that consisted of a fly-half at 15, a scrum-half at 11 and a full-back at 14, the win was all the more unlikely. However, with Joe Heyes, James Whitcombe and Charlie Clare putting in enormous shifts at scrum time, the key battles all went Tigers’ way.

A word too for Ben Youngs; he was absolutely magnificent for 65 minutes. Youngs was the controlling mind of all events on the pitch and absolutely brilliant in fixing a man with delayed passing to create holes for his carriers, working well with Springbok Handre Pollard. His opposite number Baptiste Jauneau was spirited for Clermont, but considering the schooling Youngs gave him all evening (and the performances of Ollie Chessum and Heyes up front), to see the ‘Star of the Match’ go to the home player on the end of a 44-29 beating was beyond bizarre and made a complete farce of the award.

Day of dummies

Two players will be making their own animated GIFs tonight. For Leicester, Harry Simmons in and out step and dummy to fly over in the left corner on 29 minutes was beyond outrageous. However, when you rewatch the tape, once again the man who created the chance was Youngs, with a brilliantly timed delay pass into the breadbasket of Simmons, who finished with a flourish.

In the second half, Clermont’s best period emerged in the third quarter when they struck twice in quick succession. Anthony Belleau scampered over for the first, diving on a loose ball in goal, but the second, by massive lock forward Paul Jedrasiak, featured a dummy that David Campese would have been proud of, taking out Matt Scott to go thundering over.

Clermont in crisis

The Yellow Army faithful were a less than happy bunch at the final whistle. Frustrated by the number of penalties (19) that they conceded, whistles and jeers thundered around the Marcel-Michelin as the players went off. This is a ground of great memories and a team that has set the standards in Europe for many years but, right now, they’re pale shadows of the side of their former glory years.

Jono Gibbes was brought to Clermont as a competitor to put steel in their team, but in this game the steel at set-piece and in the breakdown simply wasn’t there. Sure, there was some great personal performances. Jauneau went well, as did Alivereti Raka and Cheikh Tiberghien, but winning in Europe is all about a platform to play off and Clermont are really struggling to put together that forward effort and teamwork that has historically defined their play for many years.

Tigers triumph

Looking forward, a lot of Tigers may well have caused their former head coach Borthwick to reach for his bottle of Tippex as he finalises his squad for the Six Nations. Heyes, Chessum, Youngs Steward and Dan Kelly are absolute shoo-ins, but Harry Wells was a rock in the close exchanges and Charlie Atkinson’s versatility may well pay dividends in a limited squad.

However, on the downside, Tigers’ intensity and field position fell apart once Youngs was withdrawn. Jack van Poortvliet is learning his trade but he must inject greater pace around his ruck clearances and get more distance and hang time on box-kick clearances. But with Youngs and Wigglesworth alongside him, he has some 600 first class appearances to refer to, and his learning curve will continue.

READ MORE: Injury-hit Leicester Tigers go three from three with stunning victory at Clermont Auvergne

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