Inside the Tigers’ Den - Clermont make it 75 and counting

Leicester Tigers fly half Owen Williams. Photo: Tiger Images EMN-140704-112652001
Leicester Tigers fly half Owen Williams. Photo: Tiger Images EMN-140704-112652001

Imagine playing against the best players in the world week in week out in some of the toughest rugby competitions in the world and never knowing what it is like to lose at home.

That is the situation some of the young players in ASM Clermont Auvergne ranks find themselves in as the club is on an unbeaten run to match any in the professional game.

Not since November 21, 2009, when an 18-year-old replacement full-back called Paul Couet-Lannes scored a try for Biarritz in the last minute of the match, have the French Top 14 side lost at the Parcs des Sports Marcel Michelin.

Even more staggering is that during those four and half years the home side has won everyone of their games, with no draws to blot the copy book.

It was against that history that Leicester Tigers travelled to France at the weekend to try and overcome in the quarter-final of the Heineken Cup on Saturday.

Leicester battled hard to get back from a disastrous 16-0 deficit in the first half but at the end of the day they did not have the fire power to blow away one of the most confident and powerful sides in world club rugby.

Tigers’ latest challenge to return to the summit of European rugby ended with an agonising 22-16 defeat.

The French side’s superstar players stood up to be counted on the day with Morgan Para kicking the points from the penalty tee before club captain Aurelien Rougerie escaped the tackle of Louis Deacon to get his side on the way to the try line with French international Wesley Fofana providing the finishing touch.

Leicester showed remarkable spirit to give themselves a chance of snatching something from the game.

Fly-half Owen Williams, who was utterly brilliant throughout, dropped a beautiful cross-field kick into the arms of Blaine Scully who wove his way forward before offloading to Jordan Crane to trot in.

The try was a brilliant moment for two players who have turned their raw potential into world-class form this season.

Williams converted the try and smashed three long-range penalties to get back within three points going into the final quarter.

Watching from the side Leicester fans looked aghast as Williams pointed to the sticks from his own half.

However the 22-year-old Welshman, who is surely playing his way into Wales head coach Warren Gatland’s plans, had ten yards to spare with his bomb from 55 yards.

Perhaps the game’s most vital moment however came in the 64th minute when replacement number eight Thomas Waldrom was shown yellow for a rush of blood to the head.

The kiwi forward launched himself into the back of a Clermont driving maul a good two metres offside, and with Leicester having offended across the park in a bid to hold on, referee Alain Rolland lost his patience.

Waldrom’s yellow halted the fightback and Morgan Parra landed a decisive penalty, his fifth of the contest, to move the hosts six points clear.

But Tigers gave it everything they had in the final stages and captain Ed Slater, who was leading the team in Europe for the first time, was stopped just short of the line as Leicester barrelled and offloaded their way down-field.

But there is a reason this Clermont side, who were beaten in last year’s final, have won so many matches at home, and they were able to hold on for the win.

Leicester’s director of rugby Cockerill said: “Gallant loser is not really my thing, but we’ll take the positives from how we played.

“Clermont are a good side and they played very, very well. In the first half, they were as good as anybody has played against us and, with the atmosphere in the stadium, you can understand how they are so hard to beat here.

“It is the hardest place in world rugby to come and we were six points short, but we were still right in there at the end.

“The defence on our line with 14 men was as good as any I’ve seen.

“It is obviously disappointing but there’s nothing but credit for the players for getting themselves back in there. The effort and the pride were outstanding.

“We wanted to come here and win, and we gave it everything. We are a good side and should take credit for how we came back. There were two good teams out there.

“Fair play to the players. To come back and to be within one score of potentially winning it says a lot for them and their attitude.”

Elsewhere in Europe Leicester’s Heineken Cup group winners Ulster were knocked out by Saracens at Ravenhill, largely due to full back Jared Payne seeing red in the fourth minute.

Munster rolled back the years to record a 47-23 victory over Toulouse and defending champions Toulon beat Leinster 29-14.

Tigers play Wasps in the Premiership on Saturday.