Rougerie and Clerc’s top five Championship moments

This week two greats of the French game called time on their careers as Aurélien Rougerie and Vincent Clerc hung up their boots.

This week two greats of the French game called time on their careers as Aurélien Rougerie and Vincent Clerc hung up their boots.

Clermont legend Rougerie was given an emotional send-off at the Stade Marcel Michelin after his 418th and final game for Les Jaunards.

Meanwhile Clerc played what is expected to be his final game for Toulon, scoring a try to become the all-time leading scorer in the Top 14, as he dotted down for the 101st time.

The pair sit as the top French try-scorers in the NatWest 6 Nations, Clerc with 11 and Rougerie with 10, and can boast four Grand Slams, and a further two Championship titles between them.

So with that in mind, here is a run-down of five of their most memorable moments in the Championship.   2002 – Rougerie makes an immediate impact

Rougerie made his Test debut in November 2001 and then established himself in the French team for the following Championship, playing in every game as France became the first side to win the Grand Slam since Italy joined two years earlier.

A physical threat on the wing, his standout performance came in a thrilling 37-33 victory over Wales when he scored his first Test try for Les Bleus, while also setting up another for Clermont teammate Tony Marsh.

That would prove crucial, while he also showed his defensive capabilities with one notable tackle on Jason Robinson in the win over England two weeks later.

And Rougerie scored another try in Paris in the final round as France claimed the seventh Grand Slam in their history with a 44-5 win over Ireland.   2004 – Clerc’s first Slam

Six months younger than Rougerie, Clerc broke into the national team in 2002 but missed out on selection for the World Cup the following year.

He made up for that in 2004 as France again took the Grand Slam, with Clerc scoring a try against Ireland – the team who would become his favourite opponent down the years.

Damien Traille set it up with a break, with Clerc showing his nose for the try-line to finish as Les Bleus claimed a 35-17 win.

Clerc started three matches in all, as Les Bleus wrapped up the Grand Slam and went some way to making up for the disappointment of losing in the semi-finals of the World Cup the previous year.   2007 – Clerc stuns Croke Park

In 2007, Ireland had left their old ground at Lansdowne Road while it was being refurbished – moving to Croke Park in an historic moment for the game.

After trailing early, they looked as if they would make a winning start to life in the GAA stadium, with Ireland leading 17-13 following a Ronan O’Gara penalty three minutes from time.

France had one last chance, and did well to recover the ball from a restart through Yannick Jauzion. They initially attacked down the right before Pierre Mignoni spread the ball back the other way to half-back partner Lionel Beauxis.

He in turn fed Clerc in the middle of the park, and the winger shrugged off the tackles of John Hayes, Denis Hickie and Paul O’Connell to score and break Irish hearts.

Beauxis converted and that score would end up being decisive in the final outcome of the Championship, with Les Bleus taking the title from Ireland on points difference thanks to a dramatic win over Scotland in arguably the tightest finish the competition has known.   2008 – Clerc haunts Ireland once more

Clerc continued to be a thorn in Ireland’s side. After the Croke Park try in 2007, he scored twice more against Ireland as France knocked them out of the World Cup later that year, and he was at it again in 2008.

Fresh from two tries against Scotland in the opening match of the Championship, Clerc helped himself to a hat-trick in a 26-21 success at the Stade de France.

It was actually Rougerie, playing on the opposite wing, who was most dangerous early on with a searing break. However, after that it was Clerc who stole all the headlines crossing three times in just 21 minutes.

The first came from a brilliant chip over the top by Jean-Baptiste Elissalde, spotting that Clerc was up against Denis Leamy, and the winger sprinted away to dot down.

The second try came when David Skrela cut through the Irish defence before feeding Clerc outside him to cross, and he completed his hat-trick after great work from another Toulouse teammate, Cédric Heymans.   2012 – Rougerie and Clerc combine against Italy

Having started the World Cup final together the previous November, Rougerie and Clerc were part of the French team in 2012 under new coach Philippe Saint-André.

In what was to be Rougerie’s final campaign, they both played their part in a comfortable 30-12 success over Italy, with both men scoring.

Rougerie, who was now playing in the centres after spending much of his career on the wing, started things off with the first try as he ghosted through the midfield to dot down.

France controlled the game, and the win was effectively sealed when Clerc and Rougerie combined for the former to cross.

François Trinh-Duc chipped over the top from inside his own half, nudged it forward again before Rougerie kicked forward for a third time. He and Clerc were out in the clear and it was the latter who collected to dot down.

That was to be Rougerie’s final Championship, with Clerc making his final Test appearance the following year. Between them they managed 143 caps and 57 Test tries. Few players in the last two decades have been more influential for Les Bleus.