French Top 14 2008/09

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Perpignan 22-13 Clermont Auvergne, Top 14 Final
Perpignan strike to extend Clermont misery
Huw Richards
June 6, 2009
Date/Time: Jun 6, 2009, 21:00 local, 19:00 GMT
Perpignan 22 - 13 Clermont Auvergne
Half-time: 6 - 10
Tries: Marty
Cons: Porical
Pens: Hume, Porical 3
Drops: Hume
Tries: Nalaga
Cons: James
Pens: James 2
Perpignan centre David Marty races clear to score, Perpignan v Clermont Auvergne, Top 14 final, Stade de France, June 6, 2009
David Marty scored the decisive try for Perpignan
© Getty Images

Somebody's losing run had to come to an end in this year's French Top 14 final and it proved to be Perpignan. The sang et or took the Bouclier de Brennus back to French Catalonia for the first time in more than half a century with what proved ultimately a clear-cut victory over Clermont.

Their seventh title in all was, suitably enough, a personal triumph for a player with deep roots in club history. Twenty-three year-old full-back Jerome Porical is the son of a man who played in a losing final for USAP back in 1977, the grandson of a winner from 1938. Both father and grandfather were also fullbacks.

Porical claimed 14 points from a 100% kicking record - four penalties and a conversion, none more important than the shot from half-way that gave his team a two-score lead with 18 minutes left.

Yet his really vital intervention came shortly after half-time as his sharp little run inside and out followed by a beautifully timed pass created the space for centre David Marty to cut at an angle through a wrong-footed Clermont defence to the line. It gave Perpignan the lead for the first time, and they never subsequently lost it. Porical landed the conversion followed by three more penalties. An increasingly frustrated Clermont's only second-half reply came from a short-range Brock James penalty that briefly cut the deficit to 16-13, only for Porical to hit the target twice more.

Clermont were unable to generate any serious second-half momentum against a USAP team who contested the breakdown ferociously and defended with both fire and organisation. Clermont had two opportunities in the last quarter, but capitalised on neither. They forewent an almost certain three points that would have brought them back within a score with 12 minutes to go, choosing instead to take a tap penalty and subsequently conceding a penalty for failing to stay on their feet. Then, with four minutes to go, the usually metronomic James missed a penalty shot from 35 metres. At that moment it was clear beyond doubt that Clermont were finished.

Their continuing failures in finals have long reached the point of mental cruelty to their fans. It is one thing not to be a very good team, entirely another to be consistently good, but perpetual failures at the final hurdle. As John Cleese said in the film Clockwise 'I can stand the despair.It's the hope that's intolerable'.

Clermont have now had their hopes raised no fewer than 10 times by reaching the final, and each time returned home disappointed, a record with few if any parallels in top-class sport. The current generation have had it even worse than their fathers and grandfathers. This was their third consecutive final defeat, and the fifth in 11 years.

Perpignan became the seventh different team to beat them - Toulouse have done it four times - in a sequence reaching back to the politically charged final of 1936, when Narbonne's players sang the 'Internationale' after overcoming opponents identified with the French right and the big money of the Michelin tyre works. Their subsequent conquerors have included such now-forgotten giants as Vienne (1937) and La Voulte (1970)

This was not perhaps as brutally cruel as the 2007 final, when Clermont led into the final few minutes before falling to Stade Francais. There could be no complaints about the overall justice of the result either over 80 minutes at a packed-out and roaring Stade de France or over the length of a season where Perpignan topped the regular season Top 14 standings.

But the accumulation of failures, for the 10 survivors from 2007 and the 11 who played last year, for coach Vern Cotter who has reached the final in every season he has been with the club but has only the European Shield to show for his efforts and for the fans must have become a crushing burden. It will take immense character to get back to the Stade in 2010 - perhaps the following year, their centenary, will bring the final relief. Clermont had started well, looking the livelier of two teams with positive intentions, and had taken the lead with a superbly worked try in the 10th minute.

The improbably versatile Benoit Baby, playing on the right wing on this occasion, surged down the right following a turnover on halfway. He cut in and found contact near the 22-metre line. Clermont recycled rapidly and outside-half Brock James angled his cross-kick perfectly for predatory Fijian wing Napolioni Nalaga to cross for his 21st try of the season, more than double the next highest scorer. James, France's other top scorer with more than 300 points, landed the conversion and his later scores took his tally for three seasons with Clermont to more than 1000.

South African outside-half Gavin Hume, watched from the stands by the still-recuperating Danny Carter, offered the first hint that this might not be Clermont's night two minutes later when he landed a well-taken drop-goal for the Catalans.

James restored Clermont's seven point advantage midway through the half, but as it went on their early momentum slowed and Perpignan began to take increasing shares of possession and position. Just before the break Clermont were penalised at the breakdown and Porical landed a far from easy penalty from around 40 metres. Cutting the interval deficit to four points, it proved a harbinger of what was to come.

Perpignan: J Porical; F Sid, D Marty, M Mermoz, J Candelon; G Hume, N Durand; PT Freshwater, VM Tincu, N Mas, RE Alvarez Kairelis, O Olibeau, G le Corvec, D Chouly, JP Perez

Replacements: G Guirado, K Pulu, G Vilaceca, GJJ Britz, D Mele, JP Grandclaude, P Burger

Clermont Auvergne: A Floch; B Baby, A Rougerie, GJ Canale, N Nalaga; B James, P Mignoni; T Domingo, ME Ledesma Arocena, MA Scelzo, T Privat, J Pierre, J Cudmore, A Audebert, J Bonnaire

Replacements: B Cabello, L Emmanuelli, L Jacquet, E Vermeulen, J Senio, S Baikeinuku, PE Garcia

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