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Clermont roaring hot favourites – Penney

Tuesday 23rd April 2013

12:00 am (GMT)

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Munster have been there

Munster have been there

Munster have been there, done that and got the t-shirt.

They have qualified for four tournament finals and lifted European club rugby’s most coveted silverware in 2006 and 2008. They are also appearing in a record equalling 10th Heineken Cup semi-final.

By contrast ASM Clermont Auvergne have never managed to qualify for the prestigious tournament final and are through to the last four for only the second time.

But while Munster may have the monopoly on experience Clermont are the only team through to the semi-finals to have won all seven of their tournament contests and will enjoy “home country” advantage at Stade de la Mosson in Montpellier on Saturday evening.

They failed to make that advantage count a year ago when they went down 19-15 to eventual winners Leinster in Bordeaux but they will be all the better for that painful experience.

However, Paul O’Connell and his Munster team-mates have a special affinity with the Heineken Cup and nothing brings out the best in them than a European challenge.

They insist they are out-and-out underdogs – “there is no doubt that Clermont are roaring hot favourites and we're underdogs,” said Munster coach Rob Penney – but it was much the same when they travelled to Harlequins in the quarter-finals.

Quins had sailed through the group stages with six from six but Munster stunned the Stoop faithful with an 18-12 triumph, a victory built around a colossal all-round performance from the returning O’Connell.

Munster qualified for the knock-out stages as one of the best runners-up behind Pool 1 winners Saracens – losing on the road at Racing Metro 92 and Saracens – while Clermont scored 23 tries in doing the Pool 5 doubles over defending champions Leinster, Exeter Chiefs and the Scarlets.

It all adds up to them boasting both the leading points and try scorers in Morgan Parra (97 points) and Napolioni Nalaga (six tries) – not to mention Wesley Fofana joint second top try scorer on five.

Clermont coach Vern Cotter has a galaxy of world class stars in his squad but will be wary of how Munster’s love affair with the tournament brings out the best in the Irish side when the chips appear to be well and truly down.

Match facts

  • Clermont are the only semi-finalists to maintain a 100% record this season, they have won seven from seven, a club record run in this tournament.
  • Munster have faced French opposition on 50 occasions in this tournament, more often than any other nation. They have won 34 of those matches.
  • Napolioni Nalaga is the leading try scorer in the Heineken Cup this season (6) with Wesley Fofana (5) joint second on the list alongside Alex Cuthbert.
  • Munster have missed fewer tackles per match (7.3) than any other side in this year’s competition.
  • These sides have met on four previous occasions in this competition, with each side securing two wins and all four of these wins coming as home victories.

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Clermont claim historic first final

Saturday 27th April 2013

12:00 am (GMT)

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Un anno dopo

Un anno dopo

ASM Clermont Auvergne booked their place in a first Heineken Cup final with a hard-earned and tense 16-10 victory over Munster in Montpellier.

Napolioni Nalaga’s early try and 11 points from the boot of Morgan Parra saw the current Top 14 leaders take their place in the Dublin final at the Aviva Stadium on May 18.

Munster recovered to mount a spirited fight-back in the second half through Denis Hurley’s try.

But Clermont showed why they remain unbeaten in this year’s Heineken Cup to hold out for an historic win at the end of a compelling tie.

This was a confrontation between the old and new forces in Europe.

Until last season, Clermont had never played in a Heineken Cup semi-final and while Munster, veterans of the knock-out stages, were making their 10th appearance in the last four.

Munster used that experience to grab the opening points when O’Gara stroked over his sixth-minute penalty.

But it was one-way traffic after that as Clermont struck back almost immediately to lead 13-3 at half-time.

Captain Julien Bonnaire regained possession and only a crucial tackle by Keith Earls on Lee Byrne denied a score.

But Clermont were on a roll and after sublime footwork by Regan King, in for the injured Aurelien Rougerie, Sitiveni Sivivatu went close before Nalaga ignored a four-man over-lap outside to score close to the posts.

Parra converted and added two more penalties, the second following a devastating forward drive as the French began to flex their muscles.

Munster rallied just before the break but were repelled by the white wall lined up in front and Parra nudged Clermont further early in the second half.

Trailing 16-3, Munster dug deep and half-backs Conor Murray and Ronan O’Gara kept Clermont before finally unlocking the French defence on 60 minutes.

Felix Jones stepped through tackles before O’Gara side-footed a perfectly-weighted kick that replacement Hurley gratefully scooped up to touch down.

O’Gara cut he deficit to just six points to set up a nail-biting climax and Munster thought they had grabbed a winner when Casey Laulala pounced on a lose ball as Nalaga watched.

However Laulala knocked on and Munster’s best chance went begging as Clermont held on to spark wild celebrations inside Stade de la Mosson.

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