Clermont edge Grenoble to launch post-Cotter era
Paris: Clermont, boasting a new coaching set-up and a new raft of stars, got their Top 14 campaign off to a winning start on Saturday with a close 30-26 victory over Grenoble.
Clermont saw their four-year, 77-match winning streak at the Stade Marcel-Michelin come to a juddering halt against Castres in last season`s play-offs, and have also seen coach Vern Cotter depart to take the Scotland job.
But now headed by Franck Azema and New Zealander Jono Gibbes, the former Leinster forwards coach, they showed no lack of adventure at home against Grenoble in perfect conditions, albeit displaying some defensive frailities.
The one thing they might not have bet on was the spirit with which Grenoble arrived, pushing their more illustrious hosts all the way.
Prop Clement Ric opened the scoring for the home side after crashing over from short range, Australian fly-half Brock James kicking the extras.
Damien Chouly, who was named Clermont captain by the new coaching staff in place of France centre Aurelien Rougerie, scored his side`s second after a perfect cross-kick by James, who also hit the conversion.
Grenoble hit back with a penalty by ex-Racing stand-off Jonathan Wizniewski and then scored a memorable try through Fijian winger Alipate Ratini, who touched down in the corner after some great interlinking play.
In a fast-moving match during which Clermont`s new signings Nick Abendanon and ex-All Black Zac Guilford both had plenty of touches, James kicked a penalty while Wizniewski missed a relatively straighforward effort before nailing a 50-metre penalty.
The two sides then swapped tries, Clermont`s Julien Bardy crossing first before Grenoble full-back Fabien Gengenbacher went over after a smart break by New Zealand centre Nigel Hunt.
Wizniewski and James traded penalties early in the second-half, the Grenoble playmaker firing over another to make it 27-26 to the hosts.
James stretched the lead to four with a penalty in the 76th minute and Clermont held out, while Grenoble leave with a losing bonus point.
On Friday, defending champions Toulon began life after Jonny Wilkinson with a battling 29-15 victory at Bayonne.