Saracens To Make Life Difficult For Clermont
Saracens v Clermont
The European Cup of Champions’ Semi-Finals kick-off this weekend with English club Saracens taking on French Top 14 giants, Clermont.
After losing their opening game in Pool 1, Clermont sailed through their remaining European matches, winning five in a row to top the section, before thrashing Northampton in the quarter-finals. They are also going well domestically, although they have been overtaken by Toulon at the top of the Top14 table after back to back defeats, including a surprise reverse against Oyonnax last weekend.
Saracens didn’t find qualification from Pool 1 easy, mainly because of their struggles away from home, and they weren’t at their best in the quarter-final either, edging out Racing Metro with a last minute penalty two weeks ago. They have found their form domestically, however, putting together a run of four consecutive victories culminating in Saturday’s 22-6 victory over Leicester.
Clermont back-row Fritz Lee suffered a hamstring injury in the victory over Northampton and is a significant doubt, along with Morgan Parra who is still struggling to recover from an injury he picked up on international duty. Fly-half Camille Lopez, who has been suffering from a recurring knee injury, is also likely to be missing although Brock James proved a capable deputy in the quarter-final.
The return of Brad Barritt against Leicester was welcome news for Saracens, as was the dismissal of Billy Vunipola’s head-butting charge earlier this week, and they could receive a further boost with the return of fly-half Owen Farrell, who has been out for nearly three months with a knee problem.
Head to Head
Saracens and Clermont met for the first time in 2010 and have become regular adversaries, playing each on five more occasions since.
Clermont dominated their early meetings, winning both of their Pool matches in the 2010-11 Heineken Cup and beating Saracens again in their bruising quarter-final encounter of the same competition in 2012.
Their most significant recent meeting came at the same stage of last season’s competition, when Clermont were thrashed 46-6 at Twickenham, after which they crashed out of the Top 14 play-offs to end the season with nothing.
The two sides were also paired in this season’s Pool stage.
Saracens won their first game, but Clermont prevailed in the return match, restricting Saracens to two Charlie Hodgson penalties in a comfortable 18-6 victory at the Stade Marcel Michelin.
Clermont have been their own worst enemies at times, and have the ability to self-destruct without warning, but if they can reproduce the rugby they played in the first half of their quarter-final against Northampton, they will be hard to stop.
But while I can’t see Saracens winning, they return to France in good form and having underlined their battling qualities against Racing Metro in the quarter-final. This is likely to be a scrappy, nervy encounter and the visitors can make Clermont work hard for their victory. Back Saracens +7 at Evens in the Match Handicap market.