Leicester Tigers scored five tries in a 15-point, 29-44 victory over ASM Clermont Auvergne in Round 3 of the 2022/23 Heineken Champions Cup.
The victory continues Leicester’s unbeaten run in the European campaign heading into the final round of the pool stages next Friday night against Ospreys at Mattioli Woods Welford Road.
Matt Scott scored two tries, including the first just three minutes into the game to silence the near 15,000 strong Stade Marcel-Michelin crowd, while Dan Kelly, Harry Simmons and James Cronin each added scores.
Handré Pollard finished with 14 points from the tee, with Jimmy Gopperth adding 5 points in 19 minutes off the bench.
Ben Youngs led the side out in a record-equalling match for the scrum-half which sees him join Geordan Murphy on 74 Heineken Champions Cup appearances for Tigers, while Dan Kelly celebrated his 50th appearance with a try.
Included in the matchday squad were three players - Pollard, Gopperth and Joe Taufete’e - making their first European appearance for Leicester, while Sean Jansen started for the first time in Champions Cup rugby and Emeka Ilione, a week after his first Gallagher Premiership outing, came off the bench for his European debut.
The fixture was the fourth between the two clubs in less than a year, after meeting in last season’s Round of 16, and sixth since their first clash in 2005.
One of rugby’s loudest supporter bases were in typical full voice from before kick-off in Clermont but, after only three minutes, hushed when their backline attempted to go wide from the base of a scrum near halfway and could only watch on as Scott swooped to intercept the attack and run it in from halfway.
Pollard’s first of four conversions meant Tigers led by seven, which remained the difference until the 20th minute when the fly-half landed a penalty-goal attempt to stretch it to 10 points.
The home side hit back to close the gap to three points with their first try of the night, to Bautista Delguy, which Anthony Belleau converted in the 25th minute.
However, once again, the Yellow Army’s volume was significantly lowered when Youngs - with an advantage being played in Leicester’s favour - opted to send a bullet pass to the left wing from a ruck for Simmons, who stepped inside and out again to leave Clermont’s defence in his wake.
Pollard’s conversion from the touchline saw Tigers out to a 10 point lead on the half hour mark, before it was extended to 17 just three minutes later when Kelly crossed at the back of a driving maul.
A man down, after Fritz Lee was shown a yellow card for a high shot on Youngs, Clermont were placed under immense pressure by Leicester’s set piece and - with the help of backs, including Kelly - the visitors pushed their way over from a 5m line out.
Pollard, again from the sideline, added the extra two points to make it 7-24 with just five minutes remaining in the first half.
But, Clermont responded within sixty seconds of the re-start when Etienne Fourcade crossed for the home side’s second and Belleau converted to send the sides into the break 13 points apart.
A try almost immediately after the break for Belleau, which he was unable to convert, meant it was an eight-point game before Pollard’s second penalty-goal of the night stretched it to 11 points and Scott’s second try, which was converted, saw it out to 15 points after 45 minutes.
Scott’s first was all instinct but his second was one placed straight from the playbook.
A line out was brought down, deep inside the Clermont half, and shifted from the back by Youngs to Pollard, who found Freddie Steward on the inside, into space to offload for his centre in support.
The fourth conversion of the night from Pollard made it a 15-point lead with 35 minutes still to play.
After looking likely on a handful of occasions, only to be foiled by the scramble and fight of a Tigers side who refused to let up, Clermont managed to secure a competition point with a fourth try in the 50th minute.
Sending everything down Leicester’s right, they managed to break through in the unlikeliest of ways when second-rower Paul Jedrasiask impersonated an outside-back with speed and a dummy to die for.
The lock’s try and Belleau’s conversion closed the gap to eight points before the Clermont fly-half cut the deficit to five points with nine minutes left on the clock.
With the passionate crowd roaring them home, the wind was at the back of the home side before Leicester looked to have shut down any idea of a comeback with a Gopperth penalty-goal on 75 minutes.
Eight points ahead, with five minutes remaining, the game remained anyone’s before - with just two minutes on the clock - replacement prop James Cronin crashed over from close range after a patient build-up from the visitors.
Gopperth’s conversion with only sixty seconds left meant the difference would be 15 points, finishing 29-44 and seeing Tigers remain undefeated in this season’s European campaign approaching the final round.