EUROPEAN RUGBY: Ulster last eight hopes hang by a thread after defeat in Clermont

Ulster's Franco van der Merwe is tackled by Arthur Iturria

Ulster's Franco van der Merwe is tackled by Arthur Iturria

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CLERMONT 38 ULSTER 19

Clermont pushed into a commanding position in Pool Five of the European Champions Cup with a bonus point win over Ulster in France on Sunday.

The pool leaders led 28-0 just after the break, their bonus point secured before Ulster rallied and made a bit of a fight of things.

But in the end Clermont were just too good for the Irish Province and are now favourites to go through to the last eight as pool winners.

Ulster - who remain third on points difference from Bordeaux - are now likely to need to take maximum points from their remaining games at home to Bordeaux and away to Exeter Chiefs and hope other results go their way in the pool and across the other pools if they are to qualify as a second best runner-up.

Just like in Belfast a week preivously, Ulster were caught cold as the French hosts took the lead after just one minute, fullback Isaiah Toeava going over for a try which Morgan Parra converted for a 7-0 lead.

Ulster railled, but were unable to turn a good spell of possession and territory into possession.

Clermont controlled the game thereafter and two tries from winger Nick Abendanon, plus two conversions from Parra put them into a commanding 21-0 lead after 27 minutes.

Ulster had a chance to take something from a poor first half in the closing minutes, but after won two scrum penalties, were penalised themselves.

It looked over as contest two minutes into the second half as a Lopez intercept saw him race near the length of the pitch to score a fourth try to secure the bonus point. Parra converted for a 28-0 lead.

But Ulster picked themselves up by the scruff of the neck and on 56 minutes Tommy Bowe went over for a try, converted by Paddy Jackson with his first kick at the sticks of the day.

The momentum has swung in Ulster’s favour now and the pack drove over for a second try, against Jackson converting.

In the 65th minute the Clermont crowd were stunned when Bowe went in for a second try. Jackson’s conversion was just inches wide and Ulster were still outside the losing bonus point territory at 28-21.

The game then swung back in Clermont’s favour as they got front foot ball again. Camille Lopez steadied the rocky ship by landing a penalty to push them 31-19 ahead after 67 minutes.

With three minutes left, Ulster’s hopes of picking up anything from the game evaporated when Jackson was deemed to have deliberately knocked the ball on as Clermont attacked, he received a yellow card and Lopez converted the penalty try to complete the scoring.

ASM Clermont Auvergne: Isaiah Toeava; Noa Nakaitaci, Remi Lamerat, Wesley Fofana, Nick Abendanon; Camille Lopez, Morgan Parra; Etienne Falgoux, Benjamin Kayser, Davit Zirakashvili, Arthur Iturria, Sébastien Vahaamahina, Viktor Kolelishvili, Alexandre Lapandry, Damien Chouly (c)

Replacements: John Ulugia, Thomas Domingo, Mickael Simutoga, Flip Van Der Merwe, Peceli Yato, Ludovic Radosavljevic , Pato Fernandez, Aurélien Rougerie

Ulster Rugby: Charles Piutau; Tommy Bowe, Luke Marshall, Stuart McCloskey, Louis Ludik; Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar; Kyle McCall, Rory Best (c), Wiehahn Herbst, Pete Browne, Franco Van Der Merwe, Iain Henderson, Chris Henry, Sean Reidy

Replacements: Rob Herring, Andy Warwick, Rodney Ah You, Kieran Treadwell, Clive Ross, Paul Marshall, Darren Cave, Jacob Stockdale