Clermont Auvergne v RC Toulonnais | Saturday 28 November |Parc des Sports Marcel Michelin | 21:35
The pick of this weekend's European rugby action sees French Top 14 log-leaders Clermont Auvergne take on the 'Galatico's of rugby, Toulon, at the Parc des Sports Marcel Michelin Stadium on Saturday evening.
To Win (80 Mins)
Clermont (-16.5) 9/10
Toulon (+16.5) 9/10
We're only eight weeks into the European domestic season and Clermont have already amassed an astonishing points for total of 241. The defensive side of their game hasn't been bad either- they've only conceded 123 points at an average of 15.37 points per game. At the end of the day though stats don't win you matches it's what you do during the 80 minutes, and Clermont have shown they are susceptible to moments of madness during a game.
Their European Champions Cup tie against Ospreys last week illustrated this perfectly. The French giants dominated the first half and went it to the interval with a commanding 17 point lead. They then came out for the second stanza with a 'run the ball at all costs' mentality that let Ospreys back into the game. By the 60th minute, their healthy advantage had been cut to just six points. A 65th-minute try by former Saracens flyer, David Strettle, saw them restore their lead to a two-score margin, but they game was only secured when French International, Wesley Fofana crossed the whitewash with five minutes left in the game.
Their last domestic game saw them go down to Stade Francais by 14 points to 9. The match itself was a bit of a dour affair, with both sides keeping it tight in a bid to grind out a result.
Despite the game plan failing, I suspect Clermont may look to replicate it this weekend. The reason being is that Toulon are at their best when the game is of an open nature.
Don't get me wrong, though, Clermont have some decent backs who will take a mile if given an inch. David Strettle is a fine example of this. The Englishman bagged a brace of tries last weekend in a man of the match performance. If the Toulon backs afford the diminutive winger any space this weekend, then his name is likely to appear on the try scorers list.
Like many rugby pundits around the globe, I was convinced that Toulon would once again be the dominant force in Europe this season. As it stands, they look like a side struggling to find a happy medium between controlling the game and playing an exciting brand of rugby.
I still think they can reach those lofty heights and retain their European crown, but they're going to have to gel quickly if they are to do this.
Quade Copper demonstrated why Michael Cheika was reluctant to start him at the World Cup with a Dr Jeckyl like performance in his European Champions Cup debut.After his impressive debut against Montpelier in the Top 14, big things were expected of him when Clermont took on Wasps, but like the majority of his teammates, Cooper put in a miserable performance against Charles Piutau and Co.
The Australian pivot will have to be at his mercurial best this weekend as Clermont are going to be an extremely tough nut to crack. While Cooper is likely to retain his place in the starting XV, a few of his colleagues, who started against Wasps, may well have to settle for a spot on the bench this weekend. Mathieu Bastareaud could be the first casualty. The monstrous centre has been struggling for form over the past twelve months and with Ma'a Nonu and Matt Giteau now available, Bastareau may be spending a lot more time on the bench.
It was strange to see the Toulon loose trio struggle against Wasps last weekend. While the London club do have a few decent loosies in their ranks, I fully expected Juan Smith, Steffon Armitage and Juan Fernadez Lobbe - all experienced internationals by the way - to dominate the breakdown. With the trio proving ineffective last weekend, I wouldn't be surprised to see Duane Vermeulen get his run on debut against Clermont.
Verdict: Toulon 2/1
I know they were poor last week, but they posses so much quality in their ranks that it's hard not back them- especially when you consider the current odds are sitting at 2/1 for a win. If their all-star cast clicks, then I can see Toulon bagging a much-needed win.
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