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JJ Hanrahan And Damien Penaud Put On A Show In Clermont's Loss To Ulster

JJ Hanrahan And Damien Penaud Put On A Show In Clermont's Loss To Ulster
By Colman Stanley

The Stade Marcel Michelin is often an uninhabitable land for many of Europe’s top sides.

Ulster went there with hope. This Clermont side, featuring ex-Munster man JJ Hanrahan, were a severely depleted and Covid hit squad. Marquee signing Duane Vermeulen was also making his debut.

There hope seemed to be warranted as they raced into a 16-0 lead after 27 minutes, courtesy of three John Cooney penalties and a converted Stuart McCloskey try. But then came the first sublime Damian Penaud finish of the day. In one smooth movement the French ace dived for a Tani Vili crossfield kick and touched it down without the need to gather the ball. JJ Hanrahan kicked the first of his touchline conversions to keep Ulster within reach.

The game lulled somewhat in terms of drama but the crowd were treated to glimpses of attacking brilliance from the likes of Michael Lowry, James Hume, Alivereti Raka, and Peceli Yato.

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In the 16th minute of the second half a JJ Hanrahan break set off a thrilling chain of events that would see the game steeped in drama until the final whistle.

Following the break, Hanrahan floated a beautiful pass to Penaud who chipped over Michael Lowry and touched down over the line for another world class individual finish. And again JJ Hanrahan knocked over his second touchline kick to get within two points of Ulster.

Another JJ Hanrahan break from inside his own half set Clermont up with field position that would lead to another three points and the lead in the 62nd minute.

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Ulster remarkably did not shirk as the tide changed and the home crowd grew ever louder. They worked their way back into the Clermont 22 before Barnes called for a knock-on. However, on second viewing it appeared that Clermont had in fact knocked it on themselves, and that it was a deliberate knock on.

Nick Timoney had also grabbed the loose ball and touched the ball down, which lead Barnes to award a try. A decision that had begun as an Ulster knock on had turned into an Ulster try and a sinbin for fullback Cheikh Tiberghien.

John Cooney, not to be outdone by Hanrahan,  nailed the conversion before knocking over a monstrous long-range penalty to give Ulster nine point lead.

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Clermont were unable to find a way back and had to settle for a shot at a losing bonus point. The mission fell to JJ Hanrahan once more, and he duly delivered with a difficult penalty in the last play of the game.

It was an admirable performance from both sides. Clermont, despite being hit with an outbreak of Covid, were magnificent at times, and Ulster had conquered the Stade Marcel Michelin.

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