Our scribe takes a look at Friday's French Top 14 semi-final match between Clermont & Racing.
Clermont Auvergne host Racing Metro this Friday in the first of this weekend's two French Top 14 semi-finals. While the hosts have been given the favourites tag by the bookies, it would be suicide to write Racing off as they are a quality side and have one of the greatest fly-halves to ever have graced a rugby field on their books.
Clermont Auvergne v Racing Metro | Friday 17 June | Stade Marcel-Michelin | 20:45 (CAT)
Clermont Auvergne 7/10 | Draw 17/1 | Racing 5/4
The big spenders have enjoyed a rather sub-par 2015/16 season. They finished bottom of Pool 2 in the European Rugby Champions Cup – only winning three of their six fixtures.
They’ve enjoyed a much more fruitful domestic campaign, however, finishing Top of the French Top 14 log; six points above second-placed Toulon and seven points above this weekend’s opponents. They managed to avoid last week’s play-offs due to their lofty position on the table, so they should come into this one rather refreshed having enjoyed a two-week break.
While Toulon have assembled a squad equivalent to that of Real Madrid’s Galactico's team of the early 2000’s, Clermont aren’t far behind. The team from central France have splurged more money on players than Rick Ross has spent on Bentleys.
Clermont president Eric De Cromieres’ deep pockets have allowed Clermont to bring in some fantastic players over the last few years. Englishmen Nick Abendanon and David Strettle are on their books as is South African born Scott Spedding. They will be without one of their big money buys however as Welsh outside centre Jonathon Davies is currently on duty with his national squad in New Zealand.
There is quality cover for Davies, though, with French international Wesley Fofana likely to fill the Welshman’s boots this Friday.
Clermont don’t only possess superstars in their backline. Springbok lock Flip van der Merve and Samoan eight Fritz Lee are both brilliant players who are capable of making an impact both in the loose and the set piece.
I reckon the Racing medical team must have a miraculous medical bag or something to that effect as they've somehow managed to get a crooked Dan Carter fit and health within two weeks. The initial prognosis was that the All Black legend would miss the remainder of the season with a calf injury but somehow they managed to get Carter back on the field in time for last week’s playoff game.
Despite having just come off the treatment table, Carter put in a masterclass last Saturday scoring all of Racing’s 21 points in their victory over Toulouse.
While the former All Black is definitely the jewel in the Racing Metro crown, he has some highly competent players outside him in the form of Springbok Johan Goosen, his former All Black colleague Joe Rockocko, and Argentine winger Juan Imhoff. He also has powerhouse prop Martin Castrogiovani in front of him.
The burly Italian prop was suspended earlier in the season for partying it up in Los Vegas with footballer Zlatan Ibriominvic. The man affectionately known as Castro has served out his suspension, however, and should take some part in this game whether it be as a starter or from the bench.
Chris Masoe is another man that will be looking to lay a solid foundation for Carter to work off. The 2002 New Zealand Sevens Player of the year still has a decent turn of pace despite possessing a rather aged set of legs. The big man hasn’t lost any of his tenacity either and still clears out a ruck like a bulldozer at a demolition site.
The Stats That Matter
Both sides won 18 of their 26 fixtures regular season fixtures but Clermont’s ability to garner try-scoring bonus points saw them finish seven points above this weekend’s opponents.
Clermont conceded 431 points and scored 735 during the round robin phase while Racing let in 522 while scoring 614.
Racing won both of the regular-season games between the two sides. Dan Carter’s side managed a 26-20 home win at the beginning of May and a 20-16 away win back in December.
Both sides come into this one with some great form. Clermont have won three of their last four outings while Racing have won all four of theirs.
Verdict: Racing Metro 5/4
I really think this is going to be a weekend of upset results in the French Top 14. My advice is to get on Racing to win and double them on to Montpellier.