Reduced to 14 men in the first half, Scarlets produced a battling display in Clermont, but it was the home side who came away with a 38-17 victory to end the West Walians’ European hopes this season.
Centre Johnny Williams was dismissed for a dangerous tackle on 26 minutes and Scarlets trailed 31-3 early in the second period, but to their credit, Dwayne Peel’s men kept scrapping and crossed for two deserved late tries in a free-flowing Challenge Cup clash.
There were strong displays from Alex Craig and Vaea Fifita up front, Joe Roberts, Ioan Lloyd and Steff Evans threatened behind, while Kieran Hardy made a big impact off the bench.
But the extra man told in a crucial period either side of the interval.
Backed by a strong travelling support at the Stade Marcel-Michelin, it was the Scarlets who made the brighter start with Steff Evans launching a counter attack from deep. However, after a series of attacking phases close to the home line, Tom Rogers was nudged out in the corner, agonisingly short of the whitewash.
It took some stubborn defensive work to hold out an attacking Clermont line-out drive, then a brilliant Dan Davis turnover penalty halted another home assault.
However, the game turned on 26 minutes when Scarlets were reduced to 14 men after Williams was shown red for a high challenge on centre Julien Heritau in the shadow of the Scarlets posts.
Clermont inflicted immediate punishment with wing Alvereti Raka freed out wide for the game’s first score. Fly-half Anthony Belleau added the touchline conversion.
A break from Lloyd and quick tap from Archie Hughes – making his first senior start – led to the Scarlets getting on the scoreboard through a Sam Costelow penalty on 32 minutes, but moments later the French side were over for their second through Belleau, with the hosts making the most of the man advantage in the wide channels.
There was time for a third Clermont try just before the interval with Raka racing through the middle for his second, leaving the Scarlets with plenty of work to do, 19-3 adrift at the break.
In the shadow of the Massif Central, Scarlets had a mountain to climb in the second half.
Shaun Evans came on for his 50th appearance, replacing Davis, who had put in an impressive 40 minutes on his return from injury.
Scarlets then lost Costelow, also making his 50th Scarlets appearance, within a minute of the restart after the fly-half had clashed heads with Rogers, forcing the visitors into a further reshuffle.
Prop Giorgi Beria was over for Clermont’s bonus-point score on 43 minutes and wing Joris Jurand swiftly followed with a fifth.
Scarlets, though, kept on battling, with replacement Hardy threatening with a couple of trademark sniping breaks,
Clermont were reduced to 14 when replacement Pierre Fouyssac was yellow carded after halting a quick tap from Rogers and Scarlets picked up a deserved try when Lloyd put in a pin-point cross-field kick to Steff Evans, who dived over in the corner for a score converted by Lloyd.
Scarlets thought they had a second when Hardy crossed following a break and inside pass from Rogers, but the score was ruled out for a forward pass earlier in the move.
A tip tackle on Rogers saw Peceli Yato yellow carded with three minutes remaining and Scarlets did claim another try when the impressive Hardy collected a lovely chip through from Evans. Ioan Lloyd converted from straight in front.
However, in the dying seconds, as the Scarlets looked to attack from deep in pursuit of a losing bonus point, it was Clermont who had the final word through Belleau.
Clermont – tries: A. Raka (2), A. Belleau (2), G. Beria, J. Jurand. Cons: A. Belleau (4).
Scarlets – tries: S. Evans, K. Hardy. Cons: S. Costelow, I. Lloyd. Pen: Costelow.
Ioan Lloyd; Tom Rogers (repl Archie Hughes 77), Joe Roberts, Johnny Williams, Steff Evans; Sam Costelow (repl Ioan Nicholas 41), Archie Hughes (repl Kieran Hardy 51); Kemsley Mathias (repl Steff Thomas 44), Ryan Elias (repl Eduan Swart 56), Sam Wainwright (repl Harri O’Connor 47), Alex Craig, Jac Price (repl Morgan Jones 47), Josh Macleod (capt; repl Ben Williams 63), 7 Dan Davis (repl Shaun Evans 40), 8 Vaea Fifita.
Referee: Eoghan Cross (IRFU)