Saracens To Push Pacesetters Clermont Close
Apart from a sticky patch in October, during which they lost to Bordeaux, Bayonne and Saracens, in the space of three weeks, Clermont have been enjoying an excellent season.
They’ve won seven of their last nine in all competitions, including impressive back to back victories over Munster in the European Champions Cup, and are currently leading the way in Pool 1 as well as the Top 14.
Saracens also had a poor run of form in the autumn, but have improved steadily since, putting together a run of five consecutive wins in all competitions, including a 78-7 thrashing of London Welsh and back to back victories over Sale in Europe. A narrow 24-23 defeat at Gloucester halted their momentum, but they got back on track with a convincing victory over Munster last weekend to set up this Pool 1 decider.
France centre Aurelien Rougerie suffered a dislocated elbow in the victory over Sale at the weekend and will miss this crucial game. Viktor Kolelishvili is also out with a knee injury and Jamie Cudmore and Naipolioni Nalaga are also doubtful.
Saracens hooker Schalk Brits suffered a knee injury in the first game against Clermont and is a long-term absentee, but otherwise, the visitors have few injury worries. Owen Farrell is likely to start at fly-half with Charlie Hodgson on the bench.
Head to Head
Saracens and Clermont met for the first time in 2010 and have become regular adversaries, playing each on four 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 bruising quarter-final encounter of the same competition in 2012.
Saracens earned their revenge in April last year, this time at the semi-final stage, racing into an 18-0 half-time lead, then scoring five tries to register a 46-6 triumph.
And it was the English side who prevailed again in the opening round of fixtures in this year’s competition. After an even first half, Clermont took the initiative after the break, leading 20-13 and then 23-20, but Saracens dug in and a Chris Ashton try gave the home side a 30-23 victory and an early lead in Pool 1.
Saracens are getting stronger as the season goes on and having beaten Clermont in their last two meetings, will travel to France full of confidence.
Still, taking on the Top 14 leaders in their own backward is a formidable task. Clermont have lost five times this season, including that opening day fixture against Sunday’s opponents, but only one of those defeats came at home, and that was a single-point loss to Montpelier. The French side are close to unbeatable at the Stade Marcel Michelin, and I think they’ll edge this one, but the visitors can push them close and are good value with an eight point start. Back Saracens +7 at 10/11 in the Match Handicap market.