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Clermont march into semis by ending Toulon hoodoo

By Christopher Devine
Clermont Auvergne wing Noa Nakaitaci

Clermont Auvergne gained a measure of revenge over Toulon by beating their Top 14 rivals 29-9 on Sunday to secure the last semi-final berth in the European Champions Cup.

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Franck Azema’s men initially found it tough to pull clear of the team that had beaten them in the 2013 and 2015 finals, forging ahead three times through the left boot of Morgan Parra, only for Leigh Halfpenny to respond in kind on each occasion.

However, a 61st-minute try from France wing Noa Nakaitaci enabled Clermont to finally claim a significant advantage and Toulon looked to run out of steam as the match slipped away from them thereafter.

A late score from replacement Damian Penaud rubbed salt in the wound for the visitors to Stade Marcel Michelin, although Clermont were unarguably deserved winners after dominating the second period.

The top seeds from the pool stage will now face Leinster in Lyon for a place in the final, with Munster and reigning champions Saracens contesting the other last-four tie.

A bruising first half provided little in the way of free-flowing play, with both sides struggling to find rhythm going forward.

There was initial encouragement for the Clermont pack as they won a penalty at a scrum that enabled Parra to kick the first points of the match.

Both Parra and Toulon full-back Halfpenny then missed subsequent attempts at goal, before the latter levelled the score in the 22nd minute off the back of a driving maul forcing an infringement.

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Parra soon had his side back in front, but, although Halfpenny was guilty of a second wayward kick, the Wales international made no mistake with his next attempt when the hosts were caught offside.

However, Clermont were starting to build momentum as the interval loomed and they initially continued in the same vein after the break, Parra again splitting the posts after an attack involving Scott Spedding and Nakaitaci had almost resulted in a try.

Toulon refused to fold and Halfpenny again pulled them level with 22 minutes remaining, yet that was to be as good as things got for the men in red.

Nakaitaci was left with an easy finish after Toulon’s defence had been worn down by a powerful home attack and a Lopez drop-goal in the 71st minute effectively made the game safe.

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A collision with a leaping Bryan Habana led to Nakaitaci leaving the field late on, but his replacement, Penaud, had the final say when streaking clear down the left for a try Parra converted.

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