Saracens in the way of revenge mission
Clermont remain the nearly-men of European rugby, with this their fourth successive last four appearance in a competition they have yet to win.
Franck Azema’s side come into this one on the back of a rare home defeat at Stade Marcel-Michelin to Oyonnax in the Top 14 last weekend. However, it was a much changed selection with the entire XV rested from the previous week’s efforts against Northampton in the Champions Cup.
That win over the Premiership leaders was the undoubted performance of the quarter-finals, as they blew away the Saints 37-5, so irrespective of last week’s domestic blip Clermont remain Europe’s form team – winning their last six games in a row in the tournament to boot.
Sarries hammered their opponents in last year’s meeting, inflicting Clermont’s heaviest defeat in the competition, as well as setting a host of semi-final records including; most points scored, most tries scored and biggest margin of victory.
However, Mark McCall’s men still saw their season end on a low point as they lost two finals in the space of eight days. Like Clermont they will be eager to finally go one better.
After their last-gasp win over Racing Metro, Saracens will take nothing for granted but winning on French soil – for just the third time in their last nine attempts – will give them confidence heading into this one.
They will be further boosted by the availability of fit-again England duo Brad Barrit and Owen Farrell.
Clermont, of course, in Nick Abendanon have their own English star looking to remind the folks back home of what they have been missing.
The full-back has made more metres (716) and beaten more defenders (28) than any other player in this season’s competition and will be eager to build on his exhilarating performance agains the Saints, where he had a hand in two of Clermont’s tries before scoring a spectacular 60-metre effort of his own.
This will be the sides’ third clash in this year’s competition after being drawn in the same preliminary pool, where both sides recorded a victory against each other.
Crucially the win went the way of the home side on each occasion, with Clermont running out 18-6 victors at the Stade Marcel-Michelin in January after Saracens took the spoils on a 30-23 scoreline at Allianz Park back in October.
While this fixture will be played at a ‘neutral’ venue, there’s no denying that the staging of the game in St Etienne should have some bearing on the result.
With that in mind – and last year’s humiliation providing extra motivation – it’s hard to look past the French team (4/11) at as they go in search of a second final appearance in three seasons.
It shouldn’t be by much, though, and Clermont are available at 16/5 to win by 6-10 points inclusive.
The match kicks off at 3.15pm on Saturday, April 18th at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, St Etienne.