Try-fest sees Leicester guarantee a place in Europe's last 16
Richard Wigglesworth tasted European success for the first time as the Leicester head coach as his side defeated Clermont Auvergne 44-29 to guarantee a place in the last 16 of the Heineken Champions Cup. The Tigers ran in five tries with Matt Scott scoring twice and Harry Simmons, Dan Kelly and James Cronin also touching down as Leicester made it three wins from three in Pool B.
Clermont crossed four times themselves, through Bautista Delguy, Etienne Fourcade, Anthony Belleau and Paul Jedrasiak, but it was not enough to prevent the French club from slumping to their second defeat in three games.
Leicester got off to a flying start when, in the fourth minute, Scotland centre Scott picked off a long midfield pass by home number 10 Belleau from a scrum on halfway and raced unopposed to the posts. Handre Pollard added the extras and to make matters worse for Clermont they lost hooker Adrien Pelissie with a knee injury.
The Tigers dominated the opening exchanges and Pollard extended the lead to 10 points with his second penalty shot midway through the half.
It had taken a turnover from Wales back row Tommy Reffell to stop Clermont from scoring from their opening attack, but wing Bautista Delguy made no mistake when he took an inside pass to score in the right corner five minutes later.
Belleau’s touchline conversion cut the gap to three points but, by the break, the visitors had sped into a 13-point lead. Fantastic dancing feet by Harry Simmons created a brilliant solo try to conjure up an immediate response, with Pollard once again converting, and then Tigers made the most of an extra man.
Referee Frank Murphy decided the head-on-head collision between Ben Youngs, who was leading Leicester on the day he joined Geordan Murphy in making the most European appearances for Tigers, and Fritz Lee did not deserve a red card and ended up as yellow for the Clermont player.
Within two minutes Leicester centre Kelly had crossed on the narrow side of a driving line-out to score his side’s third try and Pollard’s conversion extended the lead to 17 points. Clermont, down in 10th place in the Top 14, hit back immediately with a try from replacement hooker Fourcade.
Belleau’s conversion was followed by a Pollard penalty from 46 metres to end the half on a high for the Premiership side, who led 27-14. Having beaten Clermont three times in 2022, Tigers looked well on their way to making in four in a row, but had a disastrous start to the second period.
A Clermont raid up the left touchline seemed to have broken down when an inside pass to Alexandre Fischer went to ground. The ball then came off the head of Charlie Atkinson and the knee of Reffell and into in-goal. Belleau pounced on the ball, but referee Murphy blew up for a knock-on. However, TMO Brian MacNeice then examined the evidence and the try was awarded.
The tries kept on flowing with Scott bagging his second in a training ground move off a line-out on the home 22 and then giant lock Jedrasiak threw an outrageous dummy to cross to the delight of the home fans. Both tries were converted and the gap was down to eight points with 50 minutes played.
It took a try-saving tackle by Tigers veteran Jimmy Gopperth to bring down Alivereti Raka five metres out in the 65th minute and then he responded to a Belleau penalty with one of his own to make the game all-but safe.
Replacement prop Cronin then grabbed a fifth try from a driving line and Gopperth added the extras to complete a superb victory.
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