Greig Laidlaw came off the bench to produce a kicking masterclass as Clermont Auvergne beat La Rochelle 36-16 to win the European Challenge Cup for a record-equalling third time.
Scotland captain Laidlaw scored 18 points with the boot following his introduction in the first half at St James Park on Friday after captain Morgan Parra suffered a leg injury.
The lively Damian Penaud scored the only try in the first half of a pulsating, brutal all-French showdown in Newcastle, with Fritz Lee and Wesley Fofana going over in the second as ruthless Clermont turned the screw.
Uini Atonio scored the only try for La Rochelle in the second half and Ihaia West booted 11 points, but they suffered heartbreak in their first European final against a side who have been runners-up in the European Champions Cup three times since 2013.
Clermont’s triumph ended a 12-year wait for a European trophy, matching Harlequins’ record tally of three Challenge Cup successes.
Laidlaw, dropped by Gregor Townsend during the Six Nations, was on target with all seven kicks at goal as Clermont completed one half of what could be a Challenge Cup and Top 14 double.
— Challenge Cup (@ERChallengeCup) May 10, 2019
Clermont, roared on by their vociferous supporters, made a blistering start and Penaud came agonisingly close to an early try when he was just short of the line reaching out at full stretch after grabbing Camille Lopez’s pinpoint cross-field kick.
Parra opened the scoring with a penalty 13 minutes in and Laidlaw doubled the advantage after the skipper was helped off in agony, but West responded from the tee.
Clermont produced a sustained spell of pressure and they were rewarded on the half-hour mark, when Penaud made an intelligent run outside of Isaia Toeava, who slipped him in for the opening try on the half-hour mark.
Laidlaw converted expertly and Penaud produced a brilliant try-saving tackle before West’s second penalty made it 13-6 at the end of a breathless first half.
West was on target with a third shot at goal after hitting the post just after the break, but two clean strikes from a composed Laidlaw gave Clermont a 10-point lead.
La Rochelle had a mountain to climb when they were unable to stop a driving maul and the excellent Lee dotted down midway through the second half, with Laidlaw maintaining his perfect record with the boot.
Atonio gave Clermont hope by crashing over, but Fofana got on the end of a Lopez kick to give Clermont breathing space and Laidlaw converted before adding a penalty right at the end.
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