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Wallaby Betham shines as Clermont beat O'Gara's La Rochelle

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Paris (AFP)

Australia international Peter Betham had a hand in all of Clermont's tries on Sunday as last season's Top 14 runners up began their campaign with a 28-10 victory over La Rochelle.

In a re-run of May's European Challenge Cup final, won by Clermont, Betham scored twice and set-up flanker Judicael Cancoriet in searing conditions in the Auvergne as La Rochelle played the final quarter a man down as Sila Puafisi was shown a red card for a dangerous tackle.

The sides took water breaks after 20 minutes and on the hour mark due to the 33 degrees Celsius heat (91.4 Fahrenheit) in former Ireland fly-half Ronan O'Gara's first match in charge of La Rochelle's backs.

The visitors were down to 14 men after less than five minutes with former New Zealand scrum-half Tawera Kerr-Barlow receiving a yellow card for intentionally knocking the ball down.

Clermont made the most of the extra player as they raced to a 10-0 lead by the 10-minute mark as Betham scored and fly-half Jake McIntyre, signed as Rugby World Cup cover for France's Camille Lopez, added the conversion and a penalty.

La Rochelle's responded after the first water break as centre Pierre Aguillon scored and former Clermont outside-half Brock James slotted the extras after 22 minutes.

James, who won a French Top 14 title during his decade at the Stade Marcel-Michelin, bought the sides level just before the break with a penalty.

McIntyre reclaimed a three-point advantage with a penalty and Betham scored his second try of the game after 57 minutes.

Substitute Puafisi, who last played for Tonga in June 2017, was sent for an early shower after a high tackle on McIntyre which forced the stand-off to be replaced by youngster Marc Palmier.

Palmier extended his side's lead to 21-10 with a penalty goal with 19 minutes to play before former All Blacks full-back Isaia Toeava was yellow carded.

Betham, who has two caps for Australia, set-up Cancoriet for the final try with a delicate off-load after collecting a long clearing kick 5 metres from the La Rochelle line.

The biggest result of the earlier games of the opening weekend was champions Toulouse losing to Bordeaux-Begles on Saturday.

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