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, winger 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.
“We were under pressure at 10-10 but we stayed patient and worked well together,” Clermont head coach Franck Azema said.
“For our first match, and despite the heat, we had good level of intensity and we alternated our play well,” Azema added.
His La Rochelle counterpart Jono Gibbes, who was in charge of Clermont’s forward between 2014-2017, said his outfit’s ill-discipline cost them dearly.
“We would have hoped to do better but being down a man for 30 minutes (in total) was enough to put Clermont in a comfortable place,” Gibbes said.
“We have some regrets but we will be more precise this week as we prepare to face Stade Francais,” he added.
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.