Home Comforts for Clermont.
Tournament favourites Clermont were the first team to book their spot in the knock-out stages, securing qualification with two games to spare – last year’s beaten finalists appear in a hurry to get back to the showpiece again.
Unbeaten at Stade Marcel-Michelin in an astonishing 74 matches in all competitions, Clermont won five out of six Pool games, their only reversal coming in the opening round of matches away to Racing Metro.
However there may be a chink of light for Richard Cockerill’s Tigers after Clermont tripped up – albeit away – against Brive at the weekend, slipping from first to third in the Top 14.
And Cockerill knows better than most what to expect in the Auvergne having spent two seasons with the French club a decade ago.
After a slow start to the season, Leicester may just be beginning to peak at the right time. They are now up to third place in the Premiership after they warmed up for their daunting trip to the south of France with a morale boosting 22-16 away win to second-placed Northampton last weekend. They have a batch of players returning after a good Six Nations with England and are further boosted by the return from injury of Manu Tuilagi.
Encouragingly, the Tigers have already won on French soil this season, defeating current Top 14 leaders Montpellier in their Pool 5 match in December. Cockerill, too, has hinted at the massive pressure on Clermont to deliver after falling at the final and penultimate stages respectively in the past two seasons.
For Clermont the Top 14/Heineken Cup double is still very much a live possibility and with a ferocious pack, backed up by a dazzling backline – which includes the power and finesse of Aurélien Rougerie, Sitiveni Sivivatu and Naipolioni Nalaga – they are a formidable outfit.
It’s hard to look past anything other than a home win at the Stade Marcel-Michelin; the problems for Clermont will really begin when they are taken away from their home comforts from here on in.
Leicester will not go down without at a fight and 5/4 on the +8.5 handicap represents value.
The match kicks off tomorrow at 4pm.