Clermont fans hoping Munster won’t prove a bridge too far

The journey from Clermont-Ferrand to Montpellier takes just over three hours on the A75. It is a fairly spectacular drive, across the Massif Central, down into valleys and rising sharply over the next mountains in a landscape shaped by volcanoes.

Either side of you are rolling green fields of grass populated by healthy-looking herds of cattle. The hay sheds still have fodder in them despite a typically harsh winter with plenty of snow.

The A75 is the only main road running down through the middle of France and the last place you would expect to see one of the wonders of the modern world, but it soon comes into view.

But, several kilometres north of the valley town of Millau, it comes into view, its seven pointed arcs with aviation lights on top of them.

The Millau viaduct is the longest suspended bridge in the world, almost two and a half kilometres long with a 290 metre drop from the road to the Tarn river below.

It was built because summer traffic could be delayed for several hours going down into the valley and coming up on the other side, so they erected it from one mountain top to the other.

The Clermont Auvergne team and supporters will travel over that bridge on their way to Montpellier to play Munster.

There are similarities between the rugby squad and the bridge. No expense was spared in assembling either.

There is a football team in Clermont but it is in the second division and plays second fiddle to rugby. Yet, fFor a supposedly ‘rugby mad’ town, there wasn’t a single flag or bunting to be seen there this week. Les jaunes et bleus will be out in force at Stade de la Mosson tomorrow, all 20,000 of them clad in yellow and blue, many of them having queued overnight to get their tickets for the game.

But while they are full of colour and passion in the stadium, they are much more reserved during the week. Former Leinster lock Nathan Hines who has also played in Perpignan and Edinburgh, noticed the difference.

“We haven’t won anything yet so I don’t think they’re getting too ahead of themselves. People put a couple of flags in their windows but I think if we get to the final it’ll change.”

The years of disappointments took their toll. Ten times they went to the French final and ten times they came home defeated.

It all changed in their 100th year three seasons ago when Kiwi Vern Cotter led them to the Holy Grail, defeating Perpignan in the final.

The Café Pascal pub, the unofficial headquarters for the Clermont supporters, is located beside the impressive Gothic cathedral built of black lava stone.

A short distance away is Place de Jaude, a beautiful large open square with restaurants and shops on all sides. This is where the heroes of 2010 were presented to the crowd when they returned home victorious. The area was thronged during the week but not a single rugby shirt or flag was in sight.

You suspect it will change if they return over the Millau viaduct with Munster added to their conquests.

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