Camille Lopez scored twice as Clermont defeated Racing 37-31 on Saturday to set up a Top 14 final meeting with Toulon.
Clermont have played consistently well during the season, in which they were in the top two on the log for all but one round. And on Saturday, they again showed their all-round star quality when they had to play the entire second half with 14 men, after lock Flip van der Merwe was unceremoniously sent off for a dangerous tackle around the neck of Racing’s Teddy Thomas.
The seven-point difference in the final score doesn’t really tell the story of the game, which belonged to Clermont. Despite conceding the red card, the hosts stuck to their expansive brand of rugby. Racing added respectability to the score with three tries only in the last 10 minutes of the match, but Clermont’s victory was never under threat.
Clermont led 19-6 at the break, thanks to tries by Lopez and outside centre Damian Penaud, and three penalties by scrumhalf Morgan Parra. Racing’s points came via two Dan Carter penalties.
There was a dramatic start to the second half when Van der Merwe, whose older brother Francois turned out for Racing, caught Thomas around the neck with a swinging arm, leaving the referee with no choice but to give him a straight red card. Carter slotted the subsequent penalty and another soon after to bring Racing within a single score of Clermont’s tally.
But if anything, conceding that red card only galvanised Clermont. The hosts ran Racing off their feet, adding 18 unanswered points in the process – including a second try from Lopez – to open up a commanding 37-12 lead.
Racing looked deprived of ideas how to break down Clermont’s 14-men defensive line for the best part of the half. It was only late in the game that the visitors managed to score three tries. But by then it was too little too late, as Clermont held on for a result that ensures there will be new French Top 14 champions crowned this season.
Clermont – Tries: Camille Lopez (2), Damian Penaud, Fritz Lee. Conversion: Morgan Parra. Penalties: Parra (5).
Racing 92 – Tries: Chris Masoe (2), Ben Tameifuna. Conversion: Dan Carter, James Hart. Penalties: Carter (4).
Clermont – 15 Nick Abendanon, 14 David Strettle, 13 Damian Penaud, 12 Rémi Lamerat, 11 Alivereti Raka, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Judicaël Cancoriet, 6 Damien Chouly, 5 Flip Van der Merwe, 4 Arthur Ituria, 3 David Zirakashvili, 2 Benjamin Kayser, 1 Raphaël Chaume.
Subs: 16 John Ulugia, 17 Ettiene Falgoux, 18 Paul Jedrasiak, 19 Peceli Yato, 20 Ludovic Radosavljevic, 21 Patricio Fernandez, 22 Aurélien Rougerie, 23 Aaron Jarvis.
Racing 92 – 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Joe Rokocoko, 13 Henry Chavancy, 12 Casey Laulala, 11 Teddy Thomas, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Chris Masoe, 7 Bernard le Roux, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Leone Nakarawa, 4 Gerbrandt Grobler, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Virgile Lacombe, 1 Villiamu Afatia.
Subs: 16 Camille Chat, 17 Eddy Ben Arous, 18 Manuel Carizza, 19 Yannick Nyanga, 20 James Hart, 21 Rémi Talès, 22 Anthony Tuitavake, 23 Luc Ducalcon.
Photo: Boris Horvat/Getty Images