Heineken Cup Semi-Finals Preview – Saracens v Clermont

Saracens have struggled against the big French sides in recent years.

When these sides last met in the knock-out stages of the Cup in 2012, it was a one-sided affair as Clermont battered and bruised their way through a lightweight Saracens side to win 22-3. The side also came up short to Toulon at this stage last year, so will be looking to right the wrongs of the last couple of campaign.

The Packs Sarries Clermont

Two years on from that drubbing at the hands of Clermont, Saracens’ game has evolved significantly and they boast a more experienced – and larger – team to provide a far tougher challenge to the French side. The likes of Nathan Hines, Jamie Cudmore, Davit Zirakashvili and Julien Bonnaire face a much weightier prospect tomorrow in the shape of the Vunipola brothers, Steve Borthwick and Mouritz Botha.

And these hefty boys will be key to securing their respective sides’ set-piece. Both sides have had very reliable scrums and Schalk Brits in particular has thrown into the lineout with pin-point accuracy while he’s also among the top ball-carriers of the tournament.

Comfortable leaders in the Premiership, Saracens are nine points ahead of Northampton), while Clermont sit third in the Top14, with only ten points separating the top seven.

Advantage Saracens then? Yes. But – and it’s a big ‘BUT’ – the Barnet side struggled to see off a 14 man Ulster in the last round and if they are as sloppy as they were in that quarter final, Clermont will run riot once more. Home advantage at least, then – Clermont are notoriously awful travellers.

The Backs

Where Sarries may have the edge is in a much more solid defence. They have conceded the least points in the Premiership – only 302 in 20 games (an average of just over 15) compared to Clermont’s 478 in 25 games (an average of just over 19).

This ability to hamper the exciting Clermont back line will be key especially with the likes of Wesley Fofana, Napolioni Nalaga and a fit-again Sitiveni Sivivatu back in the mix. The explosive power of the Fijian and Kiwi wingers is in stark contrast to the more canny and probing game played by David Strettle, Chris Ashton and Alex Goode. Ashton in particular has refound his tracking game that saw him run in so many tries when he burst onto the scene and will be looking to draw equal with the record of tries scored in a single campaign, while Nalaga has beaten an impressive 17 defenders.

Saracens also have Owen Farrell in their arsenal. The fly-half returns to the side from a foot injury and you can bet he won’t have as bad a kicking display at Twickenham as he did in that Ulster match. Prediction: Saracens by 6.

 

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