James lifts Clermont into Top 14 final

Clermont gained revenge on the team that defeated them in last year’s French Top 14 play-off final with a 19-9 win over titleholders Toulouse in the semi-final on Friday.


Clermont, who have never clinched the French crown despite nine final appearances, now face the winner of Saturday’s semi-final between Perpignan and Stade Francais in Lyon.


This is their third conseuctive appearance in the play-off final which is being staged at the Stade de France next Saturday, June 6.


Clermont, beaten 26-20 in the big one last year, were sent on their way to victory Friday by Australian Brock James, the Top 14’s leading scorer.


The fly-half opened the scoring with a penalty in the second minute before crossing the line for the only try of the game in the 11th minute, which he successfully converted.


Clermont went into the break 13-9 up after Benoit Baby had added a further penalty, with Toulouse’s points all coming from the boot of James’ opposite number, Jean-Baptiste Elissalde.


In the second half both James and Baby added two further penalties to seal a great night and put them one game away from ending a century of heartache in the French first division.


“I don’t think we played a great match but there was lots of intensity. When you do all that we did in this match the most probable outcome is a win,” reflected Clermont hooker Mario Ledesma.


Club president Rene Fontes added: “It would be hard looking at the good performance of our team not to have a smile on your face.


Tomorrow I’ll watch the game (the second semi-final) but I don’t have a preference (of which team to play in the final).” “We came up against a team stronger than ourselves,” said Elissalde.


“Clermont were better organised, more realistic and more solid in defence,” he added.


For Toulouse’ iconic lock Fabien Pelous it was a poignant night as this was the holder of the record number of caps for france’s last ever competitve game.


The 35-year-old was given a rousing send-off by the 32,000 spectators and held aloft by his teammates.


Pelous, who has turned out 118 times for France, was replaced in the 49th minute by Romain Millo-Chluski.


He retires with two European Cups with Toulouse in 2003 and 2005 and three league titles in 1999, 2001 and 2008.


He played in the World Cup final for France in 1999 andtwice won the Five Nations in 1997 and 1998 (France also winning the Grand Slam that year) and three Six Nations’ titles in 2002, 2004 and 2006.


Sapa-AFP

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