Noa Nakaitaci © Gallo images
Clermont will face Leinster in the Champions Cup semifinals after they saw off Toulon 29-9 in a gritty quarterfinal win on Sunday.
Two tries were scored and they went to Noa Nakaitaci and Damien Penaud, with Morgan Parra and Camille Lopez's boots also helping to set up a last-four clash with the Irish province in Lyon over the weekend of April 22-23.
Europe’s top-tier has generally produced an excellent spectacle at the last eight stage. The teams have opted for verve and ambition over conservatism, but these sides proceeded to serve up a dire contest.
Even accounting for the sodden conditions, in an opening period which ended locked at 6-6, try-scoring openings were in short supply. They had to be content with two penalties apiece for Parra and Leigh Halfpenny before the Clermont scrum-half edged the hosts ahead after the interval.
Click here to watch video
Halfpenny once again equalised from the tee before Auvergne finally broke through when Nakaitaci crossed the whitewash. After that try Toulon seemed to lose heart and Damian Penaud’s final minute effort confirmed their passage into the last four, where they will face Leinster.
It is an encounter which will not live long in the memory. With the inclement weather forcing errors, these Top 14 outfits looked to the power game early on and never altered those tactics.
Clermont were the first to display their physicality, forcing an infringement after four minutes from which Parra took them ahead.
They had a further opportunity to increase that buffer but, after the scrum-half skewed his effort wide, the visitors managed to gain some much needed territory.
Like Toulon, Auvergne also struggled to maintain their discipline without the ball and Halfpenny was more than happy to line up shots at goal. He missed his first attempt at the uprights but was on target soon after as the three-time champions levelled matters.
As the half wore on, continuity remained an issue with both teams lacking any sort of attacking structure. That was demonstrated by Laurent Delboulbès’ rather comical intervention after the prop got in the way of teammate Éric Escande’s pass.
He knocked on and then compounded the mistake by conceding a penalty in attempting to win the ball back – an effort Parra easily converted.
That advantage was soon cancelled out, however, when Halfpenny kicked his second three-pointer as the teams went into the break level.
The second half produced much the same fare. Both outfits relied on their packs and the kicking game of their half-backs to find field position, but neither could really assert any control.
Parra and Halfpenny continued the pattern of the match by trading penalties in the third quarter before Clermont finally broke the deadlock.
For one of the few times in the match, they managed to keep possession, forcing Toulon to commit bodies to the ruck. That opened the space on the outside and Nakaitaci benefited, touching down for the decisive score.
Toulon were rudderless and, after Lopez’s drop-goal and Parra’s penalty ended the game as a contest, Penaud went over late on to seal Clermont semifinal berth.
Clermont: Tries: Nakaitaci, Penaud Cons: Parra 2 Pens: Parra 4 Drop Goal: Lopez
Toulon: Pens: Halfpenny 3