Our in-house rugby scribe previews Sunday’s European Rugby Champions Cup semi-final between Clermont and Leinster.It’s France versus Ireland this Sunday with French giants Clermont hosting Leo Cullen’s Leinster. And while Clermont do come into this one as firm favourites with bookies, you cannot discount Leinster's chances as they have some magnificent backs and a solid forward pack that contains Irish internationals, Devin Toner and Jack McGrath.
Clermont v Leinster | Sunday 23 April | Parc des Sports Marcel Michelin | 16:00
To Win (80 Mins)
Clermont 6/10 | Draw 18/1 | Leinster 29/20
After a solid start to the season, the hosts have gone off the boil domestically losing three of their last five fixtures. They do come into this one off the back of an impressive 18-59 win over Grenoble, however.
Clermont’s road to the semi-final saw them win five out of their six group stage fixtures with their only loss coming away to Ulster. They were at their clinical best during their quarter-final encounter with domestic rivals Toulon, where they ran out 29-9 victors.
Key to Clermont’s chances this week will be fly-half, Camille Lopez. The French international has been one of the tournament’s standout players. He has a magnificent turn of pace on him and is also an assured goal kicker.
While it will be up to Lopez to get the backs firing, the talisman in the pack will no doubt be Fritz Lee. The Samoan international is an absolute bruiser who will give the hosts solid go forward ball off the tail of the scrum.
It’s been a hugely successful year for Irish rugby with both Leinster and Munster making it to the Champions Cup semi-finals. And a semi-final victory for both would be the cherry on the top of a very green cake.
Leo Cullen’s side have every chance of achieving the above as they really are a quality outfit as their run to this semi-final attests to. They topped a tough looking Pool which featured Jake White’s Montpellier bruisers. Their quarter-final display was even more impressive as they ran out 32-17 victors against a brilliant Wasps side.
Like Clermont, Leinster will look to British and Irish Lions bound pivot, Johnny Sexton, to guide them through this one. The Irish incumbent ten has one of the best boots in the Northern Hemisphere. He also isn’t afraid to take the ball to the gain line or make a tackle. If he can unleash his centres - Robbie Henshaw and Gary Ringrose – the Clermont defence could be in for a hell of a long night at Parc des Sports Marcel Michelin.
Verdict: Leinster 29/20
Clermont are known as the ‘Bridesmaids’ for good reason as they tend to go to pieces when it comes to the final few stages of a knock-out tournament. I think we will see history repeat itself here with Clermont faltering at the penultimate hurdle.