Family affair as Penaud leads Clermont to third Challenge Cup title

Newcastle (United Kingdom) (AFP) –


A first-half try by young France backline sensation Damian Penaud helped to create family history and a record-equalling third European Challenge Cup triumph for Clermont against Top 14 rivals La Rochelle on Friday.

At the St James' Park football ground where David Ginola used to star in the Newcastle United number 14 shirt, Clermont's right winger bagged the breakthrough score that set his club on the way to a 36-16 win and a hat-trick of victories in the final of Europe's second-tier competition, backing up their successes of 1999 and 2007 to match Harlequins' triple haul.

Penaud's father Alain captained Brive to the 1997 European Champions Cup.

"It's a reward for a season of effort. We started the season with the ambition to win and we were consistent," said Clermont coach Franck Azema who now wants the momentum carried into the Top 14 play-offs where his team have already made the semi-finals.

"It's good for confidence, these high intensity matches. We were patient, we were able to resist when we were under pressure. It bodes well for the Top 14."

The favourites had to overcome the early loss of their captain, Morgan Parra, but the scrum-half's replacement, Greig Laidlaw, weighed in with four penalties and three conversions.

Second half tries by No 8 Fritz Lee and centre Wesley Fofana also helped to dampen a La Rochelle fightback sparked by a try from prop Uini Atonio.

Clermont attacked from the off and Penaud came close to scoring after four minutes, gathering a cross-field kick from fly-half Camille Lopez on the 22m line and cutting through La Rochelle defence before stretching in the tackle to dot the ball down a few centimetres short of the try-line.

Parra made no mistake with his first shot at goal, landing a 12th minute penalty to furnish Clermont with a 3-0 lead.

Sadly for the veteran France half back, it was to be his only contribution on the scoreboard.

After Clermont had weathered the first spell of La Rochelle pressure, Parra collapsed to the floor when attempting a clear-out tackle, damaging his left knee and ankle.

That released Laidlaw from bench duty and the Scotland captain duly picked up where he had left off in the same ground at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, where his 26 points and late try helped his country to a crucial victory over Samoa.

A Challenge Cup winner with Gloucester in 2015, Laidlaw stretched Clermont's lead with a 22nd minute penalty.

Ihaia West made it 6-3 with his first penalty attempt two minutes later but in the 29th minute Penaud burst through an attempted tackle by La Rochelle's Kiwi fly-half to nail the opening try.

West cut the gap to 13-9 with a 47th minute penalty but a miss by the Maori All Black three minutes earlier started to look costly when Laidlaw hit back with two successful goal kicks.

In the 58th minute, Lee scored from a lineout drive and Laidlaw's conversion took the score out to 26-9.

La Rochelle struck back, prop Atonio scoring from close range in the 64th minute and West converting to make it 26-16

Ten minutes from the end, the bold fightback was effectively curtailed when Fofana landed try number three for Clermont, touching down Lopez's clever grubber kick.

Laidlaw converted and then landed a 79th minute penalty, making it seven kicks for the stand-in number nine.