For a team which represents the home town of Michelin, Clermont Auvergne showed commendable grip in a full-blooded match that had a significance well beyond keeping open the outcome of the oh-so-difficult Pool Five.
Wasps will be hoping to puncture the steel-banded sidewall when they meet in the Saxon north on Saturday, but hopes of putting the Auvergne challenge to bed on the French team's own patch proved too optimistic. Llanelli Scarlets may be falling off the back of the bus, but Munster are still a force to be respected after their 29-16 away victory at a wild and stormy Stradey Park on Saturday evening. This group is wide open. For sheer intensity you cannot beat European Cup rugby and this was a Massif Central example.
The Wasps director of rugby, Ian McGeechan, had no illusions about the pedigree of a club that do not always come to mind with the same easy reverence as Toulouse, Biarritz and Stade Franais. They came within an ace of winning the French championship last season and are lying second only to Toulouse going into a couple of vital matches over Christmas and New Year. Having been in the championship final eight times and lost all of them, "it is time for the nightmare to end," said one seasoned observer. McGeechan had been hoping for at least a share of the points. To go home without even a losing bonus, courtesy of a late, game-breaking try from the captain, Aurlien Rougerie, was "very disappointing," he said.
In front of the watching new French coach, Marc Livremont, the singing of the local anthem, Allez les Jaunes et Bleus, became more fervent as they piled into the European champions. For Raphaël Ibañez, the France and Wasps hooker, to say afterwards that his side had been a bit timid was a very English way of disguising the truth.
He had seen Mario Ledesma, his opposite number and Argentine nemesis from the World Cup, rampaging all over the field, claiming a much-disputed try, and making the final opportunity for Rougerie.
While the Clermont coach, Vern Cotter, has an enviable problem in knowing that the Springbok hooker John Smit should also be available for the rematch, Ibañez knows that Wasps were in a physical, in-your-face mode and yet were stopped in their tracks all too often. They also gave away too many penalties, six of them converted by Brock James, who was in far better form than his opposite number, Danny Cipriani, whose tactics seemed too easy to read for a back row that easily held parity with Wasps and a midfield up and ready to snuff out any magic.
Cotter wants to produce a new tableau of surprises next week; Shaun Edwards, the ever-dour Wasps coach, wants to make more points from scoring opportunities, to cut out indiscipline, and to come out of the blocks with more pace.
It will be an "epic encounter", predicted the man of the match, James Haskell, whose brace of tries added to Tim Payne's early second-half effort.
Clermont-Auvergne: Tries Malzieu, Ledesma, Rougerie; Conversions James 2; Penalties James 6. Wasps: Tries Haskell 2,
Payne; Conversions Cipriani 3; Penalties Cipriani 2.
Clermont Auvergne: A Floch (A King, 47); A Rougerie (capt), M Joubert, G Canale (B Baby, 31), J Malzieu; B James, P Mignoni; L Emmanuelli (T Domingo, 58), M Ledesma, M Scelzo, J Cudmore (C Samson, 67), T Privat (M Lozupone, 77), J Bonnaire, S Broomhall (A Audebert, 37), E Vermuelen.
Wasps: M van Gisbergen; P Sackey (J Lewsey, 63), F Waters, R Flutey, T Voyce; D Cipriani, E Reddan (S Amor, 79); T Payne, R Ibañez, P Vickery, S Shaw, G Skivington, J Hart (T Rees, 47), J Haskell, L Dallaglio (capt).
Referee: A Lewis (Wales).Reuse content