Cler and present danger for Sarries.
Saracens arrive at the semi-final stages of this year’s Heineken Cup in pretty much the same position as they did in 2013. Last year they defeated Ulster in the quarter-finals before hosting French opposition (Toulon) in the Heineken Cup last four, having already booked a home semi-final spot in the English Premiership.
This year, swap Clermont for Toulon and the same applies – only this time Sarries will be out to avoid a repeat of the insipid performances which saw them knocked out of both competitions at the penultimate stage.
In truth, Saracens never got going against Toulon last year and if the same happens here against Clermont then they can forget about a first ever European final.
This represents a third successive semi-final for Clermont and following a steady path of progression, which saw Vern Cotter’s men defeated at the last-four stage in 2012 and beaten finalists last year, the French side look on course to win it outright this season.
As runaway leaders of the Premiership, Saracens come into this game in good form. However, for all their domestic bliss, Sarries have struggled against French opposition, losing twice to Toulouse this season. Against Clermont their record in no better; the French side beat Saracens home and away in 2011 and were comfortable 22-3 winners at the quarter-finals at Welford Road a year later.
There must also be concerns over Owen Farrell, after the out-half missed far too many kickable efforts against Ulster.
For Clermont, Morgan Parra is back to his best following his two-game suspension for head-butting an opponent in the Top 14, while centre Wesley Fofana recovered from injury to show his class again in the quarter-final defeat of Leicester, highlighted by a scintillating early break before going over for his side’s only try.
Arguably the greatest team never to have won the European Cup, Clermont’s uncompromising pack, lead by veterans Jamie Cudmore, Nathan Hines and Julie Bonnaire will look to bully Sarries up front before unleashing their backline flyers.
In the match betting, Mark McCall’s side will have to take every chance they get but even then Clermont should do just enough to prevail and the 8/15 or 13/10 about them on the Handicap of -6.5 looks decent value.
The match kicks off at 3.40pm in Twickenham, tomorrow, April 26th.