French are on different planet as punch-drunk Chiefs left seeing stars

Exeter Chiefs 12 Clermont Auvergne 46

Anyone unlucky enough to encounter Clermont Auvergne when the French club's stars, both human and astrological, are in the right alignment – when Wesley Fofana purrs into overdrive, Julien Bonnaire plays at the top of his game and Morgan Parra brings all the forces together like a conductor – might be forgiven for wishing they were somewhere else, preferably far away. Exeter certainly disappeared from view during the second half of Saturday night's 46-12 defeat at Sandy Park. And wherever it was they ended up, they found precious little solace there.

Having given a striking account of themselves in the champions' lair a week previously – they lost by only three points to Leinster in Dublin and might easily have won – this second defeat, painful in a very different way, means the Heineken Cup newcomers' interest in the tournament is now restricted to messing things up for others. Rob Baxter, the Exeter head coach, always recognised this was a possibility, for Clermont are capable of smashing anyone, anywhere. But not even Baxter imagined conceding 36 unanswered points in the space of 40 gruesome minutes.

"We went a bit soft just after the interval and when you do that against this kind of opposition, I suppose this is what happens," Baxter said. "The way Clermont played after the interval – it was a big step up from Premiership rugby, if I'm being honest. In a way, I'd have been disappointed if they hadn't performed as they did. This is the Heineken Cup: the strongest teams are meant to be bloody good. What do we do now? We sit down and go through things as we always do, win or lose. We learn the lessons and go again."

In Exeter's defence, which is more than the Devonians offered after reaching the break a couple of points to the good at 12-10, the indignities suffered in the final dozen minutes were the result of events beyond their control – an act of God on high, rather than the acts of gods in rugby shirts. Having withdrawn scurryingly effective scrum-half Haydn Thomas for Will Chudley on the hour, Exeter were hit hard when Chudley was hurt in an aerial contest with Clermont full-back Lee Byrne. His departure left the home side with a centre at scrum-half and a substitute lock in midfield.

That lock was Ali Muldowney and his direct opponent was the mesmerising Fofana. It would have been a challenge for any 18 stone forward: why not ask Muffin the Mule to keep pace with Frankel while we're at it? Within three minutes of this desperate positional reorganisation, Fofana created a try for Sitiveni Sivivatu, the All Black wing. Two minutes later, he bagged one himself, running in from 60 metres. Such was the one-sidedness of it all, it would have been a seismic shock had Napolioni Nalaga, a Fijian-like Sivivatu and almost as dangerous, not wrapped things up at the last knockings with yet another five-pointer.

"There's not much you can do against a team like Clermont when you end up in the kind of shape we found ourselves in," acknowledged Baxter. "What concerned me more was the 10 minutes or so after the restart. It was then that they got away from us."

If the coach was justified in feeling aggrieved at Fofana's first try on 48 minutes - having slipped away from Tom Johnson's mistimed tackle on the left touchline, the centre slipped into touch en route to the line – there was no disputing Bonnaire's similarly tight finish in the opposite corner three minutes later. Indeed, there was no disputing anything Bonnaire did. The hard-bitten flanker was Clermont's best player when Exeter were in the game, and among their best when the home side were out of it. You can take a man out of an international side – he retired from Test rugby last season – but you cannot take the international out of the man.

Scorers: Exeter: Penalties Steenson 4. Clermont Auvergne: Tries Nalaga 2, Fofana 2, Bonnaire, Sivivatu. Conversions Parra 3, Skrela 2. Penalties Parra 2. Exeter L Arscott; I Whitten, P Dollman, J Shoemark (S Naqelevuki 54), M Jess; G Steenson (I Mieres 62), H Thomas (W Chudley 59, B Moon 68); B Sturgess, S Alcott (C Whitehead ht), C Rimmer (C Budgen 34-ht and 75), T Hayes (capt), J Hanks (A Muldowney 62), T Johnson (D Welch 62), J Scaysbrook, R Baxter. Clermont Auvergne L Byrne; S Sivivatu, A Rougerie (capt, B Stanley 59), W Fofana, N Nalaga; B James (D Skrela 66), M Parra (L Radosavljevic 72); T Domingo (V Debaty 46), B Kayser (T Paulo 59), D Zirakashvili (D Kotze 62), J Cudmore (L Jacquet 68), J Pierre, G Vosloo (E Vermeulen 27), J Bonnaire, D Chouly. Referee: J Lacey (Ireland).

pool five

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?