Matsushima stuns Wasps to snatch Champions Cup win for Clermont

There is something about Clermont and the agonising. Year after year they have proved the darlings of European rugby, their attacking game the stuff of dream teams – and yet they have never won this gong.

It looked for 80 minutes as if their plight would continue but they came and they came in wave after wave, long after the clock had turned red, until Kotaro Matsushima found a way through at the death. Franck Azéma, in his last season as Clermont coach after 11 years at the club, may continue to dream.

For Wasps this just felt typical. They languish in ninth place in the Premiership after a run of five defeats in six and cannot quite seem to get things right. They played fabulously throughout, forcing Clermont into error after error while pouncing with deadly accuracy themselves.

They scored three and had three other tries disallowed by the TMO. Even at the death, when reduced for the final passage to 14 men after Zach Kibirige’s deliberate knock-on, they defended heroically. Alas, a season such as this can only be taken on the chin. They will not progress into the quarter-finals in pursuit of a third European title.

“As you can imagine, the way we lost, there are a lot of gutted guys in the changing room,” said the Wasps head coach, Lee Blackett. “Sometimes in defeats you can find positives. I thought we played well and I thought we were the best team on the field. I felt comfortable throughout and it’s gutting we didn’t get over the line.”

Extravagant as Clermont are, no one would never accuse them of anything as dull as consistency. This game was a microcosm of their life. Their back three have outrageous attacking gifts but remain contemptuous of the more boring duties, such as defence. If a team can get behind their first line, there are often holes.

Paolo Odogwu, fresh from his exile with England, motored home in only the fifth minute after Michael Le Bourgeois ran clean through Camille Lopez straight from a lineout. Wasps’ lineout was imperious and the source of all their tries.

Their second, 20 minutes later, was another beauty. The ball was turned inside to Josh Bassett, who exposed Damian Penaud’s defence horribly, France’s winger unable to lay a finger on him. Had Matteo Minozzi managed to hold on to the ball in between times as he went over for what would have been one of the solo tries of the season, Wasps might well have been home and dry by the break.

Clermont remained in touch. Penaud was at the heart of their brilliant first, scored by Sébastien Bézy in the 12th minute, and the hard-stepping George Moala their second, finished by Peni Ravai. Two bonus penalties at the end of the first half gave Wasps a 20-14 lead at the break. Ben Harris’s try over the top of a maul from another attacking lineout opened up an eight-point lead as the game entered the final quarter.

Clermont had more of the ball now, but not the rhythm to make it tell. Lopez pulled them back to within a score in the 68th minute, but Clermont found themselves deep in their own half with only a minute to go. They forced Kibirige into his mistake before kicking for the corner and launching a three-minute, lung-bursting passage, consummated by Matsushima, the superstar from Japan as deadly as any of them. Lopez converted for the win. Clermont’s dream lives on. And much fun it is to see.