The saving grace for Saints’ director of rugby, Jim Mallinder, after seeing his side’s humiliation at Stade Marcel Michelin is that they can channel their energies on a single target – to retain their Aviva Premiership title.
But having seen his team undone so comprehensively in successive European games by Top 14 opposition, Mallinder will need to find solutions for some deep-seated problems if the runaway Premiership leaders are to go all the way to the play-off final.
“For the first 40 minutes we just weren’t in the game in any single aspect. We were very sloppy and they were very, very good,” Mallinder said of this Champions Cup quarter-final rout. “We came up against an outstanding team that hit their peak. We didn’t help ourselves – we kicked poorly, got turned over physically at the breakdown and were under pressure at the scrum. We need to learn from this very, very quickly.”
The French side, unbeaten in 22 successive home games in the European Cup, proved why they are near invincible at home as they romped into a 10-0 lead within 13 minutes. Brock James calmed the nerves with a penalty and then a line-breaking burst from Fritz Lee at a line-out enabled Wesley Fofana to race to within five metres before French wing Noa Nakaitaci weaved his way over at the posts for the first of three first-half tries.
James stroked over the conversion and then extended the lead with a second penalty shortly after opposite number Steve Myler had missed a kick of his own. Saints were worked over at the scrum, regularly penalised at the breakdown and simply outmuscled all over the park. After the dream start for Clermont came the end-of-half flourish as one of England’s forgotten men, full-back Nick Abendanon, showed off his wonderful running skills to create two more tries.
The first came after he fielded a loose kick from Lee Dickson on halfway and the second saw him sidestep Tom Wood and send Fofana streaking to the line.
There was simply no answer from the dumbstruck visitors. Nakaitaci profited from Abendanon’s first moment of magic, crossing for his second try, and by the time James had converted Fofana’s special effort the score was 27-0.
The Saints players can never have been more relieved to hear the half-time whistle and it signalled the last action for England lock Courtney Lawes, who was hauled off at half-time. Things didn’t improve much and James’ penalty soon made it 30-0.
The coup de grâce was provided by man of the match Abendanon when he stepped up into the defensive line, hit George Pisi, ripped the ball off him and then raced 60 metres for a try that James again improved.
Clermont N Abendanon (M Delany, 72); N Nakaitaci, J Davies, W Fofana (A Rougerie, 62), N Nalaga; B James, L Radoslavjevic (T Lacrampe, 72); V Debaty, B Kayser (J Ulugia, 64), D Zirakashvili (C Ric, 64), J Cudmore (J Pierre, 64), S Vahaamahina, D Chouly (capt), J Bonnaire, F Lee.
Northampton J Wilson (A Tuala, 60); K Pisi, G Pisi (T Stephenson, 74), L Burrell, J Elliott; S Myler, L Dickson (K Fotuali’i, 53); A Corbisiero (A Waller, 56), D Hartley (capt, M Hayward, 62), S Ma’afu (G Denman, 56), S Manoa, C Lawes (C Day, h-t), T Wood, C Clark, S Dickinson (J Fisher, 56).
Referee J Lacey(Ireland).
Tries: Nakaitaci 2, Fofana, Abendanon
Cons: James 4
Pens: James 3
Try: WallerReuse content