Clermont Auvergne 24 Northampton Saints 7: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings

Stade Marcelin Michelin provided the setting for Saturday's game
Stade Marcelin Michelin provided the setting for Saturday's game

Saints may only have registered two more points than the last time they visited Stade Marcel Michelin, but their performance levels were polar opposites..

Back in April 2015, Jim Mallinder's men, who would go on to top the Aviva Premiership during that season, were brutally beaten 37-5 by the Clermont Auvergne giants in a one-sided Champions Cup quarter-final.

It appeared to be men against boys as Saints were swallowed up by the relentless fervour of the home fans and totally overwhelmed by wave after wave of blue and yellow pressure.

But this was nothing like that.

This time it was Saints calling the tune for large spells of the game.

They bossed possession, having 63 per cent of the ball, and territory, earning 69 per cent.

They made double the amount of carries of Clermont, nearly double the metres, seven more defenders beaten, 11 more offloads.

It was quite an incredible set of statistics for a team that lost 24-7.

But the reason Saints suffered such a defeat was their failure to take their chances.

Time and again they coughed up possession in the final third against a teak-tough Clermont rearguard.

It was frustrating for the travelling army of fans to watch as they will have felt their team deserved so much more.

They didn't get the rub of the green with referee Ben Whitehouse, who, at times, bamboozled with his decision making and failure to be decisive.

But ultimately Saints know they could have taken the official out of the game by being less profligate.

Clermont deserve credit for their defensive effort and their ruthless streak, taking every opportunity that came their way, and even some that didn't.

That the Top 14 champions grabbed a try bonus point says a lot for their finishing ability and for Saints switching off for brief moments.

But you could understand how it happened as Mallinder's men were putting in so much effort at the other end of the pitch.

The scrum also hampered Saints as Clermont, who have enjoyed a mixed season so far, ruled that area with an iron grip.

But it didn't prevent a plethora of Northampton attacks.

Unlike in 2015, they will have felt they deserved far more than they got.

But just like in 2015, the defeat could prove hugely costly to their Champions Cup hopes.

Back then, it was fatal as they fell at the last eight hurdle.

This time, it will have to be some run to race into the knock-out stages.

Saints still have a sniff, but to make it any more than that, they will have to be far more clinical than they were on this visit to Clermont.

How they rated...

HARRY MALLINDER

Made one eye-catching break during the first half and didn't do too much wrong from full-back... 6

BEN FODEN

Was stopped agonisingly short of the line during the first half and didn't get any other opportunities to make his mark... 6

NAFI TUITAVAKE

Came up with some useful carries and wasn't out of place on a rare start at centre... 6

LUTHER BURRELL

Tried to turn on the power, but was met by some resilient Clermont defending that stopped him having a bigger impact... 6

TOM COLLINS

Another good experience for the talented wing as he tried to find ways around Clermont, but ultimately he couldn't... 6

PIERS FRANCIS

Put in a good shift defensively, racking up the tackles and also looked to create at every opportunity... 7

NIC GROOM

A fairly sparky showing from the scrum-half, who frantically tried to help Saints move Clermont's big men around... 7

ALEX WALLER

Looked strong in open play, showing no shortage of desire, but Saints had a tough time in the scrum... 6

DYLAN HARTLEY

Unlucky not to be awarded a try and his sin-binning came at an inopportune time for Saints... 6

JAMAL FORD-ROBINSON

Had a really tough time in the scrum during the first half and was taken off at half-time as Saints sought extra stability... 4

API RATUNIYARAWA

Carried superbly into contact, refusing to let go of the ball and providing a platform for attacks... 8

CHRISTIAN DAY

Grabbed a consolation try and never gave up as he desperately tried to inspire a comeback... 7

COURTNEY LAWES

Yet another huge display from the England star as he carried Saints forward time and again... 8

TOM WOOD

Made his first start since the opening day of the season and produced plenty of effort around the park... 6

TEIMANA HARRISON - CHRON STAR MAN

An indefatigable display from the No.8, who fought for every inch against the Clermont giants... 8

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

KIERAN BROOKES (for Ford-Robinson 40)

Was hit by a second-half sin-binning but did manage to make a positive impact, carrying really well... 6