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PREVIEW: Repeat or redemption in St. Etienne?

Wednesday 15th April 2015

12:00 am (GMT)

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Laminés l'an passé à ce même stade de la compétition par les Saracens

Laminés l'an passé à ce même stade de la compétition par les Saracens

Saracens knocked ASM Clermont Auvergne for six at the European Rugby Champions Cup semi-final stage last season when they ran riot in a record breaking mauling at Twickenham.

The 46-6 triumph booked McCall’s men a place in last seasons’ Millennium Stadium finale against RC Toulon. They set new semi-final records for the most points scored by a team (46), the largest winning margin (40) and the most tries scored (6). Surely lightning cannot strike twice between the Pool One rivals, who each scored a victory over each other in the early rounds.

Saracens have their defensive leader, Brad Barritt, back in the side after a knee injury kept him out of action for a month. England playmaker Owen Farrell crossed for one of Saracens’ six tries last year and is set to make an impact off the bench after he was sidelined for three months in the last meeting between the pair.

Clermont Head Coach Franck Azema is sweating on the fitness of half-back duo Morgan Parra and Camille Lopez, who both limped out of France’s Six Nations campaign. Back-row brute Fritz Lee and prop Thomas Domingo face a race against time for Saturday’s crunch test, but Azema revealed the chances of them featuring are slim.

The prize for the pair of European heavyweights is a place in the Twickenham final against reigning champions RC Toulon or Leinster Rugby, who meet at Marseille’s Stade Velodrome on Sunday.
And Saracens Director of Rugby McCall is expecting a titanic clash.

“Our experience says that in games as big as this, you need your warriors. We’re going to try and make life very difficult for them and put them under pressure in certain areas. As a club, we admire Clermont as much as anybody because they keep coming back for more. We always say we want to give ourselves a chance in every competition, and they do that year in year out and respond to set-backs extremely well.

“There is a different dynamic this year to the Vern Cotter team. Azema has added something a little bit different in attack and they are much more robust in defence, they are a very good team.”

Clermont back-row Julien Bonnaire said: “It's now or never. I would like the colours of Clermont to hang from the trophy this season and win it with my friends. The more we advance in a career the less opportunities there are. Against Northampton (35-7), it was my last European quarter-final in Clermont. This will definitely be my last semi, moreover in Saint-Etienne. I want to give everything to have no regrets in the end.”

Match facts

  • Clermont have won their last six games in a row in the tournament. They also won six on the bounce last season before losing to Saracens in the semi-final.
  • Clermont's last two defeats in the competition have both been at the hands of Saracens. The semi-final setback (6-46) at Twickenham is the French club's record defeat in Europe.
  • This is Clermont's fourth and Saracens' third consecutive appearance at this stage. Only Biarritz Olympique (2004-2006) and Munster (2000-2004) have reached the semis in three or more consecutive seasons without going on to win the final in those years.  
  • Clermont have won four of the six meetings between the clubs, with all of those wins coming by margins of 10 or more points.
  • In a run that includes two losses against Saracens, Clermont have won 10 of their last 12 contests against English opposition.
  • Clermont have the best tackling success rate (90%) in the tournament, while just four sides rank below Saracens (85%) in this category.
  • Only Saracens (28.9) and Leicester (28.5) have averaged more kicks from hand than ASM.
  • Nick Abendanon has made more metres (716) and beaten more defenders (28) than any other player this season.
  • Alex Goode ranks joint-second for metres, but his total is 245 fewer than Abendanon (471).
  • Saracens have averaged fewer defenders beaten per game (9.9) than any other side in this year's tournament, only Racing Metro have averaged more than Clermont (22.1).

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REPORT: Clermont sink Saracens in sizzler

Saturday 18th April 2015

12:00 am (GMT)

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Deux ans après sa finale perdue face à Toulon

Deux ans après sa finale perdue face à Toulon

ASM Clermont Auvergne are through to their second European Champions Cup final – their place at Twickenham Stadium in two weeks time courtesy of a moment of magic from Wesley Fofana.

The 2013 finalists – roared home by 41,500 vociferous fans packed into the St Etienne stadium – squeezed the life out of Saracens for a 13-9 win built on the boot of Heineken man-of-the-match Brock James and the hands of magician Fofana.
His try, set up by James, denied a battling Saracens side whose hopes of a second straight final appearance were finally extinguished to end Premiership interest in the 20th elite European tournament.
The repeat of last season’s clash at the same semi-final stage – won by Saracens – started at a fast and furious pace in the red-hot atmosphere of a packed Stade Geoffroy-Guichard with the massive Clermont travelling fans giving their team ear-splitting support.
Outside half James saw his second minute drop goal attempt drift wide to the left of the posts and Wales centre Jonathan Davies let a glorious attacking chance slip from his fingers as he knocked on with men to spare outside him.
James kicked Clermont back into a prime attacking position but Saracens drew first blood when a powerful drive by Billy Vunipola created the chance for Charlie Hodgson to land a superb drop goal that briefly silenced the “home” crowd.
But they were back at full volume as the Clermont pack drove the Premiership side back in rapid retreat at a scrum and it needed TMO Simon McDowell to come to Saracens’ rescue in denying Naipolioni Nalaga a try when Chris Ashton barged him out at the corner flag.
Jamie Cudmore departed for running repairs after a clash of heads with Vunipola left the Canadian with blood streaming from his wound and while he was out of the action James kicked Clermont level – with a little help from the right upright.
His penalty got the bounce he needed for it clear the crossbar with just inches to spare but they were promptly penalised at the breakdown to give Hodgson the chance to restore Saracens’ advantage.
However he saw his tricky penalty goal shot shave the left post to let Clermont off the hook with the big hits coming thick and fast.
Alex Goode gave Saracens real momentum with a side-stepping run but they squandered a prime attacking platform with their scrum in bother again.
But with the half drawing to a close Hodgson – after his “sighter” moments earlier – saw his next effort from much the same position this time slide in on the right side of the upright for Mark McCall’s men to go three points up again with the break beckoning.
There was still time for Clermont to be penalised for pulling a scrum around but Hodgson was again narrowly off target.
And with barely three minutes of the second half played that lead had been wiped out in spectacular stayle.
With the Saracens defence pulled out of shape a delicate chip kick by James was collected by dangerman Fofana for the opening try, James converting to rub salt into Sarries’s wounds.
Fofana then turned saviour with some smart covering to halt a promising Saracens raid, Morgan Parra introduced at scrum half by Clermont as they looked to hold onto what they held.
But a 66th minute collapsed scrum gave replacement Owen Farrell the chance to cut the deficit to a single point and he duly obliged to set up a nervy grandstand finish.
James calmed home nerves with a penalty that left Saracens needing more than a penalty of their own – but they ran out of time and the day belonged to Clermont and their partying fans and that place in another showpiece final.

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