European Champions Cup: Clermont Auvergne 24-7 Northampton
|European Champions Cup Pool 2|
|Clermont Auvergne (14) 24|
|Tries: Lee, Cassang 2, Falgoux Cons: Parra 2|
|Northampton (0) 7|
|Tries: Day Con: Mallinder|
Northampton suffered successive Champions Cup defeats as they were outmuscled away at Clermont to dent their hopes of making the last eight.
Clermont were vastly superior at the scrum and two tries from Charlie Cassang either side of half-time gave them a comfortable lead.
Prop Etienne Falgoux burrowed over to secure the hosts a winning bonus point with 15 minutes remaining.
But Clermont will be without Camille Lopez after the fly-half broke his leg.
The France fly-half got his leg caught under Piers Francis in a first-half tackle before being stretchered off after a lengthy delay and will likely miss the Six Nations.
Saints improve, but not by enough
After being routed at home by Saracens last weekend, Northampton were far more competitive this time.
They enjoyed plenty of territory and possession and with a more clinical attacking edge would have given Clermont a nervy final quarter.
But with at least one overlap butchered and their front row consistently outgunned at scrum time, the Saints were left with only Christian Day's pushover try to show for their visit to last year's runners-up.
Director of rugby Jim Mallinder had some positives to draw on, including Piers Francis' commanding display on his first fly-half appearance, but with defending champions Saracens also in Pool Two, their European campaign looks close to over after just two games.
Whitehouse in the hothouse
Referee Ben Whitehouse found himself the centre of attention on an uncomfortable number of occasions in front of a raucous Stade Marcel-Michelin.
The 27-year-old Welshman will not enjoy his performance much more when he reviews those big calls.
Fussy over the set-piece scrum, he ruled out a Northampton try in the first half for a knock-on when Courtney Lawes seemed to legitimately dislodge the ball from Cassang's grasp for Dylan Hartley to pounce.
Five minutes later, Hartley was then shown a harsh yellow as his outstretched arm accidentally caught Rabah Slimani in the face.
Clermont also had cause for complaint when replays showed Day's foot had been out of play shortly before he scored Saints' only try.
Most worrying, however, was Whitehouse's decision to allow Morgan Parra to return to the action after the official believed he had been knocked unconscious in an attempted tackle on Luther Burrell.
With the sport's concussion reviews under scrutiny, it exposed another potential protocol loophole.
Former Northampton player and team manager Lennie Newman on BBC Radio 5 live: "There have been lots of positives for the Saints, but they have not been clean enough when the chances presented themselves.
It was a mile away from the performance against Saracens last weekend and I think Piers Francis can be very happy with his display. He made very positive attacking choices, his passing was long, slick and accurate and he had a prickly side to his character which you need in places like this."
'You need a strong referee' - coach quotes
Northampton director of rugby Jim Mallinder: "When you come away to a place like this you need a strong referee or sometimes these things happen.
"There were a couple of crucial decisions that went against us and we will look back at some of those. There was lots of good play, but we just weren't accurate enough when we got five metres out."
"We need to forget about Europe for a while, but next week against Wasps becomes a huge game for us. It's a home match, we're third in the league, and it's one we're looking forward to."
Northampton: Mallinder; Foden, Tuitavake, Burrell, Collins; Francis, Groom; Waller, Hartley (c), Ford-Robinson, Ratuniyarawa, Day, Lawes, Wood, Harrison.
Replacements: Haywood, Van Wyk, Brookes, Paterson, Gibson, Reinach, Stephenson, Pisi.
Clermont: Toeava; Strettle, Penaud, Lamerat, Raka; Lopez, Parra; Chaume, Kayser, Slimani, Van der Merwe, Timani, Cancoriet, Lapandry, Lee.
Replacements: Ulugia, Falgoux, Jarvis, Jedrasiak, Gerondeau, Cassing, Betham, Abendanon.