Clermont Auvergne (21) 38
TRY: Isaiah Toeava, Nick Abendanon (2), Camille Lopez, Penalty Try. CON: Morgan Parra (3), Camille Lopez. PEN: Camille Lopez.
Ulster (0) 19
TRY: Tommy Bowe (2), Franco vd Merwe. CON: Jackson (2)

It seems like I’ve been writing slight variations of this report for the last ten years of Ulster’s European exploits away from home.

First half capitulation, second half revival, a brief glimpse of hope, only to have that dashed by some act of poor concentration in the last ten minutes. For all their undoubted talents Ulster have seldom got it right in their heads for these big games. I don’t know what you call it; professionalism, nouse, belief, confidence, concentration, a mixture of all these but collectively Ulster invariably come up short when it really matters. 

Clermont got off to the best of starts with full back Isaiah Toeava sliding through the Ulster midfield practically unopposed before sidestepping the final defender to score. Parra added the extras to give Clermont a 7 – 0 lead. 

Ulster did regroup somewhat but were turned over oh too easily, the French side winning the tackle area in the key parts of the pitch. As the first quarter came to an end an inoculus kick ahead by Clermont was comfortably fielded by Charles Piutau who proceeded to offload into the hands of Remi Lamerat and a couple of phases later Nick Abendanon was sliding over in the corner. 

Easy yards given up again moments later after Chris Henry tackled Para at the ruck and from the resultant maul at the line out a cross field kick by Lopez is collected by Abendanon for his second score and, with Parra converting both, a 21- 0 lead after 25 minutes. 

Ulster did have their a chance as the half drew to a close but their attacking scrum was destroyed under the posts and Clermont escaped unscathed. 

The game was over within minutes of the restart as Lopez intercepted Pienaar’s pass to sprint clear from his own 22, securing the bonus point in the process. 28 – 0 down on the 42nd minute, Ulster really had nowhere to go. 

Clermont poked away at the Ulster defence for another ten minutes but Ulster held firm and by the 56th minute a looping pass from Pienaar found Tommy Bowe out wide for the Ulsterman to cross, Jackson converting to take the score to 28 – 7. 

Despite the distraction of Aurélien Rougerie’s lost boot Ulster remained focused and a driving maul from a line out saw Franco vd Merwe awarded the try which Jackson converted. 28 – 14 and Ulster’s tails were up. 

By this stage Best, Herbst and Pienaar had been withdrawn and good work from Rodney Ah You ended with Ulster awarded an attacking scrum just outside the Clermont 22. A crash ball by McCloskey was pushed wide for Bowe to cross for his second. Jackson converted, but it wasn’t awarded leaving the score at 28 – 19, literally inches, or a pair of good glasses for the assistant referee, from a losing bonus. 

Unfortunately, that was as good as it got. Ah You blotted his impressive cameo with a collapsed scrum and Lopez slotted over the resultant penalty to take it to 31 – 19 by the 70th minute. However another try would give Ulster a possible two points but the momentum looked to be be back with the home side. 

I don’t know what goes through players minds at this stage but with ten minutes to go and Ulster comfortable in possession, desperately needing the next score, and Paul Marshall kicks the ball to touch for a 10 meter gain, but possession lost. Why, oh why, oh why? 

Clermont did what Ulster should have done and battled their way upfield to be awarded a penalty try after Paddy Jackson blocked a scoring pass out wide and that was the game. 

Ulster: Charles Piutau, Tommy Bowe, Luke Marshall, Stuart McCloskey, Louis Ludik, Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar, Kyle McCall, Rory Best, Wiehahn Herbst, Pete Browne, Franco vd Merwe, Iain Henderson, Chris Henry, Sean Reidy. Replacements: Rob Herring, Andrew Warwick, Rodney Ah You, Kieran Treadwell, Clive Ross, Paul Marshall, Darren Cave, Jacob Stockdale. 

As it stands. 

CLERMONT 4 3 0 1 +55 17
BORDEAUX 4 2 0 2 -3 9
ULSTER 4 2 0 2 -26 9
EXETER 4 1 0 3 -26 6

It’s not all over as Ulster still have a chance of qualifying for the knock-out stages as one of the best runners up. It is out of their own hands as, besides needing to need to win both of their remaining games, they will also likely need Montpellier and Toulon and Connacht and Castres to lose at least one of theirs.