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Leicester put on the spot by Malzieu's marauding

Clermont 40 Leicester 30

There was a harum-scarum finish to what had looked like a harum-scarum game for Leicester but, one way or another, Welford Road should be bursting at the seams, Christmas shopping on hold, for a return confrontation on Saturday which surely cannot be a repeat of this remarkable script.

From 35-9 with 10 minutes to go to 40-30 at the final whistle, this was a nightmare that finally turned into a flicker of hope for Leicester. They believe that a pool which contains three of the 10 top teams in the European championship is still alive, and where there is life there is hope.

They also know that, although both clubs are fourth in their respective national leagues, this was perhaps the first truly classy performance from Clermont Auvergne,but theirs is a wine which does not always travel well.

In an opening 40 minutes that were worth all of the ticket price, attacking rugby was again the winner and most of it came from Clermont as the Tigers struggled to find form, pace, shape, and hunger.

It took only25 seconds for referee Alan Lewis, resplendent in pink, to award the first penalty after Aurélien Rougerie, relishing his move from wing to outside-centre, recovered the ball from the kick-off and Leicester transgressed.

Toby Flood cancelled out Brock James' opening penalties with three of his own in the first half, but that was the only way Leicester appeared able to make an impression on the scoreboard. Most of the game was being played at their end of the field and all of the effective rugby, it seemed, was coming from Clermont. In the 11th minute Julien Malzieu their big and burly wing and man of the match, ripped the ball out of a ruck and passed to flanker Alexandre Lapandry, who was again on hand to take the scoring pass from Anthony Floch, the full-back, in a flowing move.

That score was typical of the way the Auvergnats were able to string together phase after phase, driving into the heart of the Leicester defence with speed, intensity and, for the most part, success. During one such move, Gonzalo Canale managed a glorious miss-pass as Leicester were reduced to all-out defending.

The first of two tries from the imperially named Fijian Napolioni Nalaga came from a pick-up and gallop, the second from a sackful of phases which left him a simple dive over the try-line.

For Richard Cockerill, the Leicester coach and former England hooker, this was a fascinating journey back to the club where he was a former player.

Four years ago Leicester won at the Marcel-Michelin 40-27, but yesterday, there was not even a losing bonus for the Tigers to savour as Clermont, instead, pocketed the extra points. The French club now sit at the top of Pool Three with the Ospreys; Leicester, three points adrift, are in third place and know they will have much work to do if they are to recover lost ground. "If we don't win next week we're out, we're done," Flood admitted. "It's a big week for us. No doubt, there will be a lot of hours spent studying the video." And some of it may not make pretty viewing, either.

Clermont, it appears, have been transformed under the management of New Zealander Vern Cotter. "I was happy for 70 minutes, but the real challenge is to bring something back from Leicester in six days' time," he said.

Scorers: Clermont Auvergne: Tries: Lapandry, Nalaga 2 Parra, Cudmore; Conversions: James 3; Drop goal: Floch; Penalties: James 2. Leicester: Tries: Allen, Flood, Staunton; Conversions: Flood 3; Penalties: Flood 3.

Clermont Auvergne: A Floch; N Nalaga, A Rougerie (capt), G Canale (T Lavea, 65), J Malzieu; B James (G Williams, 77), M Parra (K Senio, 64); T Domingo, M Ledesma (W Wepener, 76), D Zirakashvili (V Debaty, 63), J Cudmore, T Privat (J Pierre, 66), J White, A Lapandry (E Vermuelen, 36), J Bonnaire.

Leicester: S Hamilton; L Tuqiri, A Allen, A Mauger (J Staunton, 60), A Tuilagi; T Flood; J Grindal (B Youngs, 47); B Stankovich (M Ayerza, 40), M Davies (G Chuter, 52), M Castrogiovanni, L Deacon (capt, B Kay, 65), G Parling, C Newby, L Moody (B Deacon, 61), J Crane.

Referee: A Lewis (IRL).