Northampton Saints scored six sensational tries in Clermont but were just edged out in the final ten minutes of a rollercoaster European Challenge Cup clash.
Saints had their work cut out at the break as they trailed 27-12, the hosts pulling away and securing a bonus point after a relentless opening quarter of an hour that saw both sides score twice – Northampton through Fraser Dingwall and then Alex Mitchell.
But a remarkable hat-trick from Teimana Harrison, plus another score from replacement Cobus Reinach, sealed a bonus point in defeat for the visitors despite Clermont’s late try denying them a second in a nail-biting finish to the game.
The hosts started brightly and built the phases before scoring a try in the right corner. The ball went wide to Judicaël Cancoriet who exchanged passes with Damian Penaud before sliding over for the game’s opening score.
Parra converted from out wide to make it 7-0, but Saints however responded in spectacular fashion.
Luther Burrell found Dingwall whose pass over the top found Tom Collins in space, and the speedster dashed into the corner before drawing a tackle and offloading to the onrushing Dingwall to score.
And the men in Black, Green and Gold silenced the Stade Marcel-Michelin with another brilliantly-worked try as Ehren Painter offloaded inside to James Fish who burst clear and found Mitchell to run the ball under the posts.
But a breathless first ten minutes was complete with Clermont intercepting deep in their own territory and going the length of the field to score – Peceli Yato the man to streak clear and dot down.
Another Parra conversion took the scoreline to 14-12 and the atmosphere in Clermont was back to fever pitch.
Teimana Harrison looked to have the line at his mercy as Saints carved out the next opportunity, but referee John Lacey pulled them back for a forward pass in the build-up.
Heinrich Brüssow was then unlucky to be penalised at scrum-time and Parra extended the hosts’ lead with 25 minutes played.
But two tries in quick succession were a sucker-punch for Northampton, who continued to play some excellent attacking rugby.
Both scores came with Clermont finding space on the left and then offloading with precision to take out Saints’ final few defenders – with Peter Betham and then Wesley Fofana taking the scoreline to 27-12.
Naiyaravoro made his presence felt with a rampaging burst through the middle of a ruck, but with his teammates several metres behind him the Clermont defenders regrouped and forced a knock-on.
The second half began with Saints on the charge and the TMO intervened to rule out Alex Mitchell’s try, but they scored moments later from the resulting penalty as Harrison stretched over at the back of a rolling maul.
Northamton were right back in it at 27-19 but Clermont kept them at arm’s length with their fifth try shortly after – it was Fofana again who went clear courtesy of Yato’s offload inside, and Parra made no mistake with the routine conversion.
Quick as a flash though, Saints had their bonus point; Collins drew a defender and released Harrison, who sold Betham with a dummy and burst under the posts himself.
Dingwall was inches short of another when first Burrell then Collins hacked through after a loose Clermont pass, but the hosts again regrouped and got over the ball on their own line.
Replacement Lewis Ludlam then burst onto a Burrell offload and held off three defenders before finding Reinach outside him to score again, and the comeback was well and truly on at 34-34 thanks to Grayson’s conversion.
But Yato was scurge of Saints again as the hosts pulled out again shortly after; the big No.8 making the break through the line and finding Betham who scored his second of the night.
Northampton weren’t done yet though and a key turnover deep in Clermont territory, after Grayson’s superb kick to the five-metre line, saw another twist.
After a quick tap-and-go penalty, it was Harrison again who stretched over to complete his hat-trick – with the try awarded via the TMO.
However, Saints were forced to settle for just a losing bonus when Rémy Grosso’s solo effort stretched the scoreline back out to 48-40 a few minutes from full-time.
Northampton stay second in Pool One as a result but still are in good shape to qualify for the knock-out stages as a best-placed runner-up next weekend.