Munster's Doug Howlett tries to evade Aurelien Rougerie
Clermont Auvergne (20) 26
Tries: Mignoni, Ledesma
Cons: James (2)
Pens: James (4)
Munster (6) 19
Pens: O'Gara (4)
Munster kept their hopes of qualifying from Heineken Cup Pool 5 alive by securing a bonus point in a 26-19 defeat by Clermont Auvergne on Sunday.
Clermont led 20-6 at half-time, Pierre Mignoni and Mario Ledesma scoring tries and Brock James kicking 10 points to two Ronan O'Gara penalties for Munster.
Lifeimi Mafi scored the only try of the second half with O'Gara converting and adding a further two penalties.
The French side's only points after the break came from two James penalties.
Clermont made the livelier start but O'Gara opened the Irish province's account against the run of play with a 30-metre penalty in the 11th minute.
The home side's domination paid off on 17 minutes when scrum-half Mignoni dived across the line for a try after good work by Julien Malzieu and James, who added the conversion.
Australian James extended his side's lead with a 25th-minute penalty and then executed another successful kick from in front of the posts six minutes later.
Clermont's second try came courtesy of Argentinian hooker Ledesma who ran from a few metres out to ground the ball beside the posts after accepting an inside pass from the impressive Mignoni.
James again made no mistake with the conversion to make the scoreline 20-3 in the French side's favour.
Loic Jacquet was yellow-carded for a professional foul in first-half injury-time and O'Gara then landed a penalty before the break following a period of Munster pressure.
Malzieu became the second player to receive a yellow card for a professional foul a minute after the interval.
A James penalty on 56 minutes put Clermont further in the driving seat but Mafi completed a fine move by the Munster backs by scoring under the posts four minutes later, O'Gara adding the simple conversion.
Flanker Alexandre Aubert was yellow-carded for punching after 70 minutes and O'Gara took advantage of the resulting penalty award by slotting between the posts.
Munster's heroic comeback continued with another O'Gara penalty on 76 but James replied with his fourth penalty of the game in the final minute.
James was then just off target with a late drop-goal attempt which Clermont needed to keep alive their hopes of winning the pool.
Munster now trail Wasps by three points but entertain the English side in their closing game at Thomond Park next Saturday.
Munster fly-half Ronan O'Gara:
"I have to say I didn't realise the bonus point was still in the play at the end - it was all a bit crazy.
"People don't realise how tough Clermont are. They're a fantastic side and that was a really tough game."
Clermont coach Vern Cotter:
"In terms of permutations, we'll look at it after the Llanelli game next week. We knew the importance of the bonus point, which is why we tried the late drop goal to shut Munster out.
"But we're satisfied with the win. We knew that Munster had the quality to come back into the game, and I was impressed with their resolve."
Clermont Auvergne: A Floch; A Rougerie (capt), M Joubert, S Bai, J Malzieu; B James, P Mignoni; L Emmanuelli, M Ledesma, M Scelzo, A Jacquet, T Privat, J Bonnaire, A Audebert, E Vermeulen.
Replacements: M Lozupone, D Zirakashvili, C Samson, S Broomhall, J Senio, B Baby, V Delasau.
Munster: Shaun Payne; Brian Carney, Rua Tipoki, Lifeimi Mafi, Doug Howlett; Ronan O'Gara capt, Peter Stringer: Marcus Horan, Jerry Flannery, John Hayes; Donncha O'Callaghan, Mick O'Driscoll; Denis Leamy, David Wallace, Anthony Foley.
Replacements: Frank Sheahan,Tony Buckley, Donnacha Ryan, Alan Quinlan, Tomas O'Leary, Paul Warwick, Kieran Lewis.