Clermont Auvergne are one of my favourite teams to watch in Europe, the club have a huge presence in French rugby and they consistently compete for major trophies every season. Clermont always have a squad packed with top class talent and they play an attractive free-flowing brand of rugby making them irresistible to watch on times.
The club was formed in 1911 and played its first competitive match in 1935 against Perpignan, the team have strong links with tyre manufacturer Andre Michelin whose son Marcel helped establish Clermont. The club was known as AS Michelin for 8 years until it was changed to Montferrand in 1919, this name stuck for over 80 years until changed its name to Clermont Auvergne in 2004.
Clermont Auvergne have played in thirteen Top 14 finals with the first in 1936, they lost the match by 6 points to 3 to Narbonne. The club reached the same stage next season this time facing CS Vienne, they fell short for a second consecutive year losing the final 13-7.
The following season Clermont won their first piece of silverware in the Challenge Yves du Manoir defeating Perpignan 23-10 in the final, they have won the competition on two further occasions in 1976 and 1986.
Clermont seem to have no issues reaching the latter stages of major competitions but they have a bad habit of losing finals. The club have lost eleven Top 14 finals with their only victories coming in 2010 and 2016. Clermont have reached a total of 31 finals in their history and have only won eight, this includes losing three Champions Cup finals. They have fared better in the Challenge cup reaching three finals and winning two.
The 1970s was successful period for Montferrand where they reached two Top 14 finals and two finals in the Challenge Yves de Manoir. The 80s was a dry period for the club contesting in only one Challenge Yves Du Manoir final which ended in defeat, the 90s proved to be more successful with Clermont competing in two Top 14 finals aswell as winning their first European Challenge Cup with victory of Bourgain in 1999.
Clermont played in their seventh Top 14 final two years later which ended in defeat to Toulouse, this was followed by 5 year period of mediocrity where little success was achieved. Vern Cotter took over in 2006 and this sparked a rejuvenation at Clermont.
Cotter guided Clermont to 3rd place in the Top 14 and a first final in 5 years in his inaugural season in charge. They played against Stade Francais and it was a closely contested match, 5 penalties and a drop goal from Brock James gave Clermont a 2 point lead going into the last 5 minutes of the match. A 78th minute try from Radike Samo crushed Clermont and Stade won the final 23-18.
At this point Clermont had reached eight Top 14 finals and lost every single match.
Although Clermont did find success in the Challenge Cup, the club finished top of their pool and won all six of their group matches, this opened up a quarter-final against Newcastle Falcons which Clermont won 24-19.
This was followed by a 46-23 victory over Newport Gwent Dragons in the semi-finals which set up a final against Bath at the Twickenham Stoop. Tries from Julien Malzieu, Tony Marsh and Brock James guided Clermont to a 22-16 victory over Bath ending a 7 year trophy drought for the club.
Clermont continued to improve into Cotter’s second year at the helm, they finished 1st in the Top 14 winning 20 matches and managed to qualify for a second consecutive final, this time against Toulouse.
Despite starting strong in the final Clermont were unable to shake off an experienced Toulouse side, Toulouse managed to pull away in the last 20 minutes with an Maxime Medard try opening up a 10 point lead. Toulouse won the match 26-20 to lift their seventeenth Top 14 title.
The following season Clermont Auvergne finished 3rd in the Top 14 and reached a third consecutive final where they faced Perpignan at the Stade De France, the match was competitive with Clermont leading 10-6 at half-time. Perpignan scored a converted try 5 minutes into the second half and dominated the rest of the match, Clermont were limited to only 3 points in the second half and Perpignan went on to win the final comfortably.
Clermont were frequent contenders in both the regular season and play offs under Cotter but they seemed unable to deliver on the biggest stage losing three consecutive finals. In his fourth season though their fortunes changed. Clermont qualified for the playoffs once again and overcame Toulouse in dramatic fashion in the semi-finals, this set up a rematch against Perpignan which surely wouldn’t end in another defeat for Clermont.
A converted try in 17th minute from Napolioni Nalaga was the only try of the match and this was followed by two penalties from Morgan Parra and a drop goal from Anthony Floch which decided the contest, Clermont ended their horrendous streak in Top 14 finals and won a first Top 14 title in the clubs history, this success was a huge relief for Cotter and help to justify the progress made by Clermont under him.
Success in the Heineken Cup has proved to be a struggle for Clermont, the club reached the quarter-finals in 2010 but they lost out to Leinster by one point, next season Clermont reached the semi finals and played against Leinster once again, this ended in defeat once again for Clermont.
Clermont made history in 2013 by reaching their first ever Heineken Cup, they faced against Toulon who were also playing in their first final, the match was played at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin with over 50,000 people in attendance. Toulon edged out Clermont and won the match by a single point, the final score was 16-15.
Cotter’s last campaign in Europe culminated with Clermont reaching the semi-finals for a third consecutive season where they faced Saracens at Twickenham. The French club was demolished by Saracens losing the match by 46 points to 6.
The next three seasons saw Clermont lose out in the Top 14 semi finals to Toulouse, Toulon and Castres, this was followed by a quarter-final defeat to Castres in Cotter’s final league game in charge of Clermont Auvergne.
After 8 years in charge Vern Cotter left the club to join the Scotland national team, he was replaced by backs coach Franck Azema who has been in charge of the club ever since. So far his tenure has been a success with Clermont winning a second Top 14 title in 2016, reaching another Top 14 final in 2015 and a second Champions Cup final in 2016.
In Azema’s fourth season in charge Clermont slumped to a 9th place finish losing 14 of their matches and they also fell short in the Champions Cup as well losing against Racing 92 at home in the quarter finals.
Clermont have looked to have rebounded so far this season cruising to a 1st place in the Top 14 and they are unbeaten in the European Challenge Cup, the club look in good shape to compete for a third Top 14 title and are favourites to win a third Challenge Cup, Azema is a good head coach and Clermont have a squad filled with quality, the sky is the limit.
Clermont Auvergne have always been a club who show great promise but they rarely deliver when it really matters, the club will have to defy expectations once again this season to reach the summit of European and French rugby.
I would like to credit Blacklion 1192, SporTop and Srellian1 for the videos provided in this blog, the relevent links are below.