Sunday, 02 April 2017 01:48

Clermont – Toulon

Clermont and Toulon will square off in the last quarterfinal of the European Rugby Champions Cup, with the hosts solid favorites to claim the win at Stade Marcel-Michelin.

Clermont is having a terrific season, currently sitting on the 2nd place in the French Top 14 and advancing to the Champions Cup quarterfinals as the top seed – due to having the best record in the group stage. The hosts are on the back of a 3 point road loss to Racing 92, but they were missing some players in that game and will feel confident of returning at home, where they have been amazing all season.

As opposed to Clermont, who finished the pool stage with the best record, Toulon was the last team to qualify, snatching an 8th seed via points difference. The visitors are on the back of a 6 point defeat at Stade Francais, yet another road loss for them. Toulon is 4th in the Top 14 but away from home they have not played well at all, winning just 2 of 12 in France and 1 of 3 in Europe.

Team news & lineups:

Clermong will make 5 changes to the team which lost last week to Racing, so they will have a few fresh legs here. Toulon will not have the likes of Matt Giteau or Mamuka Gorgodze, massive absences. The likes of Ma’a Nonu and François Trinh-Duc return, but there are questionmarks over their fitness, especially with Trinh-Duc.

Clermont: 15 Scott Spedding, 14 Noa Nakaitaci, 13 Aurélien Rougerie, 12 Rémi Lamerat, 11 Nick Abendanon, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Peceli Yato, 6 Damien Chouly, 5 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 4 Arthur Iturria, 3 Davit Zirakashvili, 2 Benjamin Kayser, 1 Raphaël Chaume

Toulon: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Drew Mitchell, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 François Trinh-Duc, 9 Éric Escande, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Juan Smith, 5 Romain Taofifénua, 4 Juandré Kruger, 3 Levan Chilachava, 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Laurent Delboulbès

The two teams met twice this season, with Toulon winning at home 23 – 21, but losing at Clermont by 24 points (30-6)! The results accurately depict the importance of home court advantage and the quality difference between the two teams this year.

Playing at home will be a huge advantage for Clermont, as they have won 14 of 15 home matches this year in all competitions, while Toulon won only 3 of 15 on the road. Home court advantage is always crucial in European rugby, but there`s a feeling it will be even more important in this match, in front of a packed Stade Marcel-Michelin.

Toulon is definitely a solid side and one of the best in French Rugby, being Top 14 runners up last season. However, this year they haven`t been as solid and much of that may have to do with their key players advancing in age. The likes of Ma’a Nonu, Brian Habanna or Juan Smith are all rugby legends, but these guys are playing since forever and do not have the same impact anymore at 34 or 35 years of age.

The key in this game is set to be Clermont’s forward pack, which has been so dominant this year and looks so much better than Toulon’s. In a game set to be decided mostly by penalties, Clermont’s advantage in the scrum should have a huge impact, allowing them to get easy penalties for the excellent Camille Lopez to convert.

Toulon misses a couple of key guys, their most important players are old and some of them are just coming back from injuries. What`s more, they will field pretty much the same side as last week in the Top 14, while Clermont rested a number of players and will be more fresh. Considering that Toulon will also have to face one of the most powerful packs in the world, it`s fair to expect them to tire in the late stages of the game.

Look for a rather close game in the first part, but with Clermont dominating territory and possession. Their powerful forward pack and scrum should get them a few more penalties than Toulon and the ultra reliable Camille Lopez will kick them in. In the final 25 minutes or so, Toulon should tire and allow Clermont to run away with it.

Of course, Clermont has the ability to run away with the game at home anyway, without relying on fitness. If they have a good start that would make the bet look very good as the match goes on and they could repeat the 24 drubbing they gave Toulon in the league.

My tip is Clermont to cover the 7,5 point handicap. Prediction: Clermont – Toulon 26 – 11.

Pick: Clermont -7,5
Odds: 2.00 @ Bwin
Stake: 8
Possible profit: 8
Event date: 2 April