Leicester edge Clermont in Euro cup

by RUGBY.com.au staff

Leicester relaunched their bid for a place in the quarter-finals of the European Cup with a gritty 23-19 win over French rugby heavyweights Clermont on Saturday.

Leicester, the 2001 and 2002 champions, suffered their first defeat in Pool Four last week when they succumbed 30-12 in Auvergne.

However, a solid second-half defensive performance, combined with the boot of England five-eighth Toby Flood, kept the Tigers on course for an 11th quarter-final appearance in 15 years of European Cup competition.

After David Skrela and Morgan Parra had put Clermont 6-0 up inside 14 minutes thanks to two drop-goals, Leicester hit back two minutes later when England centre Manu Tuilagi broke through unopposed to touch down, with Flood converting.

The prospect of an early exit from the competition loomed for the Tigers as Clermont dominated the rest of the half, with a Parra penalty, a superb try by ex-New Zealand wing Sitiveni Sivivatu and a Parra conversion giving the visitors a 16-7 half-time lead.

Leicester came out flying after the interval, however, a Flood penalty being followed in the 47th minute by a Julian Salvi try, which the England man converted.

Clermont struggled to find the same pace and punch they had enjoyed in the first half and found their scoring chances restricted to Parra, who hit a penalty between the posts in the 55th minute for their only points of the half.

Leicester finally made a decisive break with 19 minutes remaining when another Flood penalty gave the hosts a 20-19 lead.

With seven minutes on the clock, Flood put the chances of a Clermont upset further beyond reach when he sent his third penalty through the posts.

Australian fly-half LeBrock James came close to helping launch a late fightback but his long-range penalty sailed just wide of the post in the 75th minute.

After narrowly avoiding suffering a first European Cup defeat at home for five years, Leicester are now in a three-horse race for top spot, which gives automatic entry to the quarter-finals.

Elsewhere in Pool Four, Ulster kept their campaign on track with a 46-20 rout of Aironi.