We preview Sunday’s European Champions Cup quarter-final between Clermont and Toulon.French giants, Clermont and Toulon lock horns in the last of the European Champions Cup quarter-finals this coming Sunday. The hosts, after an immaculate start to the season, have recently struggled domestically and will look to the Champions Cup as a mechanism to arrest their dip in form.
While Clermont have endured a tough time in the Top 14 of late, Toulon are having one of their worst domestic seasons ever and currently sit fourth on the Top 14 table and are in danger of missing out on the Top 14 play-offs.
So which one of these giants of the European game will make it through to the Champions Cup semi-finals? I’ll try and figure that out below:
ASM Clermont Auvergne v RC Toulonnais | Sunday 2 April | Parc des Sports Marcel Michelin | 16:15
To Win (80 Mins)
Clermont 3/10 | Draw 20/1 | Toulon 26/10
Clermont (-6.5) 9/10 | Toulon (+6.5) 9/10
*Please note that these are forecasted odds. Correct odds will be added upon release
Clermont’s dip in form coincided with the loss their midfield suffered to injuries and Six Nations call-ups, with Franck Azema’s men losing 50% of their games during the Six Nations period. And while they did put in a stellar display against Pau – they ran out 65-13 victors – the week after the Six Nations concluded, they then lost to a struggling Racing Metro side, undoing all their good work from the previous week.
Despite their dip in form, Clermont still sit second on the Top 14 log and have all but assured themselves a place in the play-offs. The Champions Cup provides them with the opportunity to stay in the hunt for a double, and you can bet your bottom dollar that this Clermont outfit, who have been dubbed ‘The Perpetual Bridesmaids’ by segments of the French rugby press, will be going all out to secure some form of silverware. They will be huge runners to achieve this if they can replicate their Pool phase form.
Speaking of the Pool phase, Clermont dominated Pool 5 winning five out of their six fixtures, with their only defeat coming away at Ulster. They also managed to garner a try-scoring bonus point in five out of those six fixtures, which illustrates just how dangerous they are with ball in hand.
It was quite interesting to see that Azema opted to exclude both fly-half Camile Lopez and Remi Lamerat from last week’s squad who took on Racing. I suspect that both players will return the starting XV this week, however.
The big spenders have endured a horrific season by their standards, with off-field scandals and uncertainties over the players and coaching staff’s futures hampering their cause. Current coach, Mike Ford, is set to be replaced at the end of the season by former France captain, Fabien Galthie while the likes of Matt Giteau, Drew Mitchell and James O’Connor may be on their way out of the club.
As I mentioned in the introduction, Toulon have failed to live up to the lofty expectations that are always placed upon them. They have only managed to win 10 of their 22 domestic fixtures and they only made it to the Champions Cup play-off stage by virtue of a losing bonus point, which they claimed during their final Pool phase game against Saracens.
While Toulon have some fantastic players on their books they just seem unable to function together. On paper, their centre pairing of Ma’a Nonu and Mathieu Basteraud looks extremely intimidating but the duo has blown hot and cold this term and will need to up their game if they are to get one over their domestic rivals.
Verdict: Clermont 3/10
Toulon teams of the past could have pulled this one off despite playing this poorly. This current crop is a different breed, however, and I just don’t think they have the team spirit nor determination to pull off an upset. I will be having two stikes on this game; a big go on the Clermont win at 3/10 and then a moderate punt on Clermont to clear the handicap.