Ospreys in for fight of their lives
January 15, 2010
Aurelien Rougerie starts in the centre for Clermont © Getty Images
With Pool 3 of the Heineken Cup too close to call, Ospreys travel to face Clermont Auvergne at the Stade Marcel Michelin in our Game of the Week on Saturday with a four-point cushion thanks to back-to-back bonus point victories over Viadana.
Les Jaunards returned to the summit of the Top 14 last weekend and will be a fierce proposition for an Ospreys side that has shown flickers of its best in recent weeks. The visitors picked up the points with a 25-24 success at the Liberty Stadium in round two but will be all too aware of the power possessed by Clermont after watching their first-half demolition of Leicester.
The Tigers will also have a keen eye on proceedings with next weekend's trip to face the Ospreys a potential decider, while Clermont know that a home success will put them in the box seat ahead of their final game against Viadana.
The home side have a full complement of stars to call on for the game. Talismanic skipper Aurelien Rougerie starts at outside-centre and accommodates the brutish pairing of Napolioni Nalaga and Julien Malzieu on the wings and the counter-attacking Anthony Floch at fullback.
The brilliant halfback combination of Brock James and Morgan Parra are present and correct, with a third goal-kicking option present in centre Seremaia Bai. Jamie Cudmore and Thibaut Privat provide the grunt in the second-row, behind a gnarled front-row of Thomas Domingo, Mario Ledesma and Davit Zirakashvili. Julien Bonnaire, Alexandre Lapandry and Elvis Vermeulen complete the pack.
The Ospreys have reacted to the physical challenge posed by Clermont by selecting the biggest backline at their disposal. Shane Williams must make do with a place on the bench as giant Scotland wing Nikki Walker is preferred and the story is the same in the centre where the hard-hitting Andrew Bishop steps in in place of James Hook. Dan Biggar and Ricky Januarie are the halfbacks.
Ryan Jones leads the side from No.8, with Jerry Collins and Marty Holah completing a now-familiar back-row. Jonathan Thomas has seen off competition from Ian Gough to start alongside Alun-Wyn Jones in the second-row, while Adam Jones plays his biggest game since returning from injury at tight-head.
"We face a team who are one of the leading sides in Europe and who are coming into the game in a rich vein of form," Ospreys coach Sean Holley said. "They've been on a good run lately and picked up some good wins, most notably away to Toulouse last weekend which put them top in the T14 so we know the size of the challenge that we are up against on Saturday afternoon.
"We've had a good look at their strengths and weaknesses, and it's been interesting viewing to be honest. They've got a good set-piece game and they like to play attacking rugby using their big, strong backs. We know that we are going to be put under pressure by them and their passionate supporters, but we have to stand up to that."
Clermont Auvergne: Anthony Floch; Napolioni Nalaga, Aurélien Rougerie (capt), Seremaïa Bai, Julien Malzieu; Brock James, Morgan Parra; Thomas Domingo, Mario Ledesma, Davit Zirakashvili, Jamie Cudmore, Thibaut Privat, Julien Bonnaire, Alexandre Lapandry, Elvis Vermeulen
Replacements: Willie Wepener, Vincent Debaty, Martin Scelzo, Julien Pierre, Alexandre Audebert, Kevin Senio, Brent Russell, Gonzalo Canale
Ospreys: Lee Byrne; Tommy Bowe, Sonny Parker, Andrew Bishop, Nikki Walker; Dan Biggar, Ricky Januarie; Paul James, Richard Hibbard, Adam Jones, Alun-Wyn Jones, Jonathan Thomas, Jerry Collins, Marty Holah, Ryan Jones (capt)
Replacements: Huw Bennett, Ryan Bevington, Cai Griffiths, Ian Gough, Filo Tiatia, Jamie Nutbrown, James Hook, Shane Williams
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