James keeps Clermont alive
Australian fly-half has a perfect game as Clermont beat champions
By Phil Jackson. Last Updated: 08/12/08 12:57pm
James: Perfect game
Clermont Auvergne kept themselves in contention for the Heineken Cup quarter-finals with a 25-19 victory over holders Munster on Sunday.
Brock James rounded off a thrilling Heineken Cup weekend with 25 points, as the European champions were restricted to a losing bonus point at Stade Marcel Michelin for the second straight season.
Marcus Horan's try had put the Magners League leaders in control in the first half, but six penalty kicks from six and a converted try completed a perfect game for Australian fly-half James and ripped Pool One wide open.
Munster remain second behind Sale in the group, but they are now just a point above Clermont ahead of their return meeting in Ireland next weekend.
It was a ferocious start at the Stade Marcel Michelin with a big hit by Munster skipper Paul O'Connell on Davit Zirakashvili setting the tone.
The visitors managed to restrict the powerful Clermont side to playing in midfield as a result, but an offside penalty allowed James to put the first points on the board.
Undeterred though, Barry Murphy made a good break as the champions showed their quality with ball in hand, and Doug Howlett's kick and chase minutes later led to the penalty that gave Ronan O'Gara the chance to level the scores at 3-3.
The winger's chase of Tomas O'Leary's up and under then led to a second penalty for failing to release the ball on the ground and O'Gara kicked his second penalty.
James kicked a penalty straight back after Seremaia Bai's powerful break but, despite their lack of possession, it was Munster who scored the game's first try.
O'Gara it was who shifted the ball right, following Alan Quinlan's break, and debutant Niall Ronan then found David Wallace before Horan showed great strength to hold off Anthony Floch and go over in the corner for a superb converted try that made it 13-6 to Munster.
Aurelien Rougerie's bone-shuddering tackle on Ian Dowling after the restart lifted the home side though and James kicked two more penalties either side of an O'Gara three to take the sides into the break with Munster leading 16-12.
But Clermont came out firing after the interval and forced Munster into yet more indiscipline to give James his fifth penalty kick of the match.
More problems were to follow for the visitors as Pierre Mignoni's superbly weighted dink kink forced a linout for the French on five metres.
From the resulting take and pressure, Mignoni fed that man James to go over for a finely-worked try. James kicked the conversion and Clermont had turned the game on its head in just seven minutes, forging their way into a 22-16 lead.
Clermont continued their pressure on the Munster line with Mignoni and James pulling the strings and the fly-half kicked his sixth penalty as the hosts, backed by a passionate home crowd, began to dominate in every area.
Benoit Baby's tackle on Keith Earls in the air did allow O'Gara to relieve some of the pressure but indiscipline continued to cost the champions, this time in the attacking third.
Clermont gave away a penalty of their own though to allow O'Gara to crucially reduce the deficit to six points.
And in spite of Lifeimi Mafi's forward pass that cost Munster what looked a certain try at the death, they have taken a bonus point from the 25-19 defeat despite being largely outplayed.