Clermont, avoid embarking on a slippery slope

By Arnaud Coudry

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ASM’s Argentinian winger, Bautista Delguy, during the victory in Montpellier. SYLVAIN THOMAS / AFP

After two defeats in a row, ASM has no room for error on Saturday evening at home, against Racing 92, leader of the Top 14.

At this chaotic start to the season, strongly impacted by the World Cup, the Top 14 regained its rights and, after only eight days played (including three before the World Cup), things are moving very quickly. In one direction, as in the other. This is the case for ASM Clermont Auvergne, which had a convincing start to the season. Before getting his feet back on the mat during his last two matches. First of all at home against Toulon (27-30)which was a surprise, then Toulouse (31-10)for a rather encouraging defeat with young people who stood up.

Clermont-based manager Christophe Urios has long chosen to align his executives at the start of the financial year. Very few rotations, the typical team sent to the front. Struggling, his team collapsed at Michelin against the RCT. The technician who ped through Oyonnax, Castres and UBB then made his mea culpa. “This defeat is for me. It’s my responsibility, we had poor management of the week, he lamented at the time. We trained poorly, we weren’t able to do this week as we wanted, once again, it’s my responsibility. We had two good matches (success against Bayonne and Montpellier, Editor’s note), we didn’t know how to follow up with a third, it’s my fault.»

“We don’t have an ultra-dominant scrum because the referees think we’re cheating”

Change of gear to challenge Toulouse, the reigning French champion, with several young locals launching into the Ernest-Wallon arena. If the final score is heavy, it does not reflect the content of the Auvergne performance. “The score is tough. We showed a good face in terms of mentality, greeted the new strong man of the ASM. We knew how to live up to the match we wanted to play. Even though we took thirty I’m pretty proud of the team. Despite the defeat I see lots of positive points for the future.» However, Christophe Urios sharply castigated the arbitration: “Since the start of the season we have been poorly refereed. People will say that I’m complaining but it’s the truth. I haven’t said anything until now but that’s enough now. We need to be respected.»

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This is Clermont’s problem. The team, which has no longer been regularly invited to the finals banquet in recent seasons, is now refereed, not as a small team, but as a team which is not considered dominant. Former international right pillar Rabah Slimani, long targeted by referees for his scrum performance, was again in the eye of the storm last weekend.

Julien Laïrle, deputy in charge of the Auvergne forwards, raised this problem this week: “From the start, we have had a very clean scrum, capable of starting the game well, which is never really in danger. Against Toulon, the best scrum in the Top 14, I didn’t feel fragile. On the other hand, we don’t have an ultra-dominant scrum because the referees think we’re cheating, that we’re at fault. Often they target Rabah (Slimani), it bothers me a little especially when we see the last two scrums in Toulouse, five meters from their line. I don’t understand.»

“Put the church back in the middle of the village”

No time to think about it. A second Michelin misstep would be a real mess. But Racing 92, leader of the Top 14 with excellent momentum since the arrival at the helm of the Englishman Stuart Lancaster, arrives in Auvergne with serious ets to put forward. “It’s the best team at the start of the season,” plant Christophe Urios, who calls for general mobilization. “We need our best players to play at their besthe insists. I expect my leaders to step forward, to be exemplary and to carry the team. We need to put the church back in the middle of the village!” To prevent ideas from becoming as black as the stones of Clermont Cathedral.

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