Clermont rise to the top of Top14 with Grenoble victory

Noa Nakaitaci scored three tries for Clermont

France wing Noa Nakaitaci scored a hat-trick as Clermont went top of the French Top 14 table with a 45-12 bonus point rout of Grenoble on Friday.

Despite being in disarray in January after losing a third successive home match and bundled out of Europe with a home defeat to Bordeaux-Begles, Clermont have since won three in a row and lead by two points from European champions Toulon ahead of the rest of the weekend matches.

Fiji-born flyer Nakaitaci was the hero with three first half tries but Clermont were at their scintillating best as they exploited a succession of Grenoble errors to touch down five times in the first period.

The match seemed over as a genuine contest inside the first 10 minutes as Clermont got off to a blistering start.

In the second minute, South African-born full-back Scott Spedding broke a couple of tackles and his pass out of the back of the hand found lock Sebastien Vahaamahina, who threw a basketball-style flip that bounced before finding the hands of former England wing David Strettle to touch down in the corner.

Three minutes later, Grenoble turned over ball deep in Clermont’s half and the visitors immediately attacked at pace from inside their own 22.

Wesley Fofana made the initial break before finding Nakaitaci, who passed inside for Wales centre Jonathan Davies to score.

Clermont did not let up there and when Grenoble lost their own line-out on nine minutes, quick hands in the backs nullified the home side’s aggressive defence and allowed France international Spedding to find Nakaitaci in space.

The 25-year-old still had a lot to do but beat the first tackler on the outside, the second for pace and then cut inside the third to score.

Scrum-half Morgan Parra nailed all three conversions, including the tricky first from wide on the right, to give Clermont an unassailable-looking 21-0 lead.

It took only 10 more minutes for Nakaitaci to double his tally, and once again it came from turnover ball deep in Clermont territory.

Fly-half Jonathan Wisniewski lost the ball in the tackle, with Fofana gobbling it up.

Clermont quickly moved the ball left and Davies found Nakaitaci in acres of space, the wing doing the rest, cutting inside two covering defenders before going over under the posts.

Grenoble did not let their heads drop and came storming back, finally converting pressure into a try.

From a five-metre scrum, New Zealander Rory Brice picked up from the back before blasting through three tacklers, opposite No.8 Fritz Lee amongst them, to score.

Wisniewski missed the conversion but shortly afterwards, Clermont’s Australian prop John Ulugia was sent to the sinbin for a no-arms tackle on hooker Arnaud Heguy.

Yet Grenoble lost a line-out from five yards out as again a golden chance went begging and within minutes, Nakaitaci had completed his hat-trick.

The break this time came from fly-half Camille Lopez whose darting run had the Grenoble defence back-peddling before he found Spedding to in turn spread the ball wide to Nakaitaci.

Seemingly hemmed in on his flank, the winger somehow managed to stand up to three attempted tacklers before nonchalantly dotting down.

Para continued his perfect record with the conversion and a penalty, and at the end of a first 40 minutes the home side dominated territorially, they trailed 38-5.

Grenoble would not lie down, though, and Brice again smashed through three tacklers from close range before stretching out an arm to place the ball smack on the tryline for his second score on 61 minutes, Wisniewski converting this time.

But Clermont had the last laugh as young replacement scrum-half Enzo Sanga benefitted from a badly managed Grenoble scrum five metres from their own line, pouncing on the loose ball after it shot out from the back of the home pack.

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