Wednesday, May 25

Matsushima stuns Wasps to snatch Clermont’s Champions Cup win | Champions League

There is something in Clermont and the dying. Year after year they have proven to be the favorites of European rugby, their attacking game is the stuff of dream teams and yet they have never won this gong.

For 80 minutes it seemed his situation would continue, but wave after wave came and went, long after the clock turned red and Kotaro Matsushima found a way through death. Franck Azema, in his last season as Clermont coach, after 11 years at the club, can keep dreaming.

For wasps, this felt typical. They languish in ninth place in the Premiership after a five-game losing streak and can’t seem to get it right. They played fabulously throughout, forcing Clermont to make mistake after mistake, as they pounced with deadly precision.

They scored three and another three attempts were not allowed by the TMO. Even in death, when they were reduced for that final passage to 14 men, after Zach Kibirige’s deliberate blow, they defended heroically. Unfortunately, a season like this can only be taken on the chin. They will not go to the quarterfinals in search of a third European title.

As outlandish as the Clermonts are, one would never accuse them of something as boring as consistency. This game was a microcosm of his life. That three of their own are outrageous in their attacking skills, but still despise the dullest duties, such as defense. If a team can get behind its front line, there are often gaps.

Paolo Odogwu, fresh from exile with England, returned home in just the fifth minute after Michael le Bourgeois smashed through Camille López directly from a lineout. The wasps’ line-out was compelling and the source of all their attempts.

The second, 20 minutes later, was another beauty, the ball spun inward towards Josh Bassett, who horribly exposed Damian Penaud’s defense, the France winger unable to put a finger on him. Had Matteo Minozzi managed to retain the ball between halves as he approached for what would have been one of the solo attempts of the season, Wasps might as well have been home and dry at halftime.

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Clermont kept in touch. Penaud was at the heart of his brilliant first, scored by Sébastien Bézy in the 12th minute, and tough George Moala in the second, finished off by Peni Ravai. Two bonus penalties late in the first half gave Wasps a 20-14 lead at halftime. Ben Harris’ attempt over the top of a maul from another attack lineout opened up an eight-point lead as the game entered the fourth quarter.

Clermont had more of the ball now, but not the pace to show it. Lopez led them back to a scoreboard in the 68th minute, but Clermont found himself deep in his own half with just a minute to go. They forced Kibirige to make his mistake, before kicking around the corner and launching a lung-popping three-minute passage, consummated by Matsushima, Japan’s superstar as deadly as any of them. López converted for victory. Clermont’s dream lives on. And it’s a lot of fun to watch.

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