La Rochelle out to topple Clermont
April 7, 2011
Clermont were in formidable form as they beat Biarritz last weekend © Getty Images
La Rochelle and Clermont Auvergne are set to go head-to-head for a place in the Amlin Challenge Cup semi-finals on Thursday night at the Stade Marcel Deflandre.
Hosts La Rochelle progressed to the quarter-finals after topping Pool 5 with home and away wins over Agen and Rovigo as well as a decisive 24-18 victory against Gloucester at Kingsholm in December.
Their domestic form has not matched their European exploits, losing six of their last seven games, and they are currently second bottom in the Top 14 with just six victories this season. However one of those wins did come over Thursday's opponents with a 22-14 victory at the Stade Marcel Deflandre in November.
Reigning Top 14 champions Clermont Auvergne took their place in the last eight as one of three runners-up from the Heineken Cup pool stages, after finishing second to Leinster in Pool 2, and they will be going all out to claim a third Challenge Cup crown following successes in 1999 and 2007.
La Rochelle - Player to watch: Openside flanker Nicolas Djebaili will be hoping to take advantage of the absence of Clermont's French back-row internationals Julien Bonnaire and Alexandre Lapandry, and stem the follow of the opponent's possession.
La Rochelle - Team news: La Rochelle have made 13 changes to the side that lost to Brive in the Top 14 last weekend with likes of scrum-half Benjamin Ferrou, fly-half Remy Tales and Romain Carmignani all rested as they prioritise their fight for Top 14 survival. Outside centre Sefulu Gaugau and Djebaili are the sole survivors from the previous starting XV.
Clermont Auvergne - Player to watch: France international Aurelien Rougerie endured a mixed tournament in the Six Nations at outside centre but he is back on his former position of right wing and Clermont will be keen to use him as a strike runner
Clermont Auvergne - Team news: Rougerie returns to captain the side from right wing as one of eight changes to their starting XV. He is joined in the back-three by Benoit Baby who replaces Anthony Floch at fullback while Morgan Parra stands down. With France loose-head Thomas Domingo out with knee ligament damage, Lionel Faure comes into the front row as one of four changes in the pack with Bonnaire and Lapandry rested.
Key Battle: Much responsibility will fall on in-coming fly-half Romain Lacoste as the 24-year-old takes on the challenge of orchestrating La Rochelle's attack against the experienced Clermont fly-half Brock James.
Trivia: Clermont have won two previous European Challenge Cups while La Rochelle are taking their place in the quarter finals of the competition for the first time.
Stats: Clermont have 12 former or current internationals in their starting XV.
"I know our lads are pushing to do well in this competition but we've lost a few matches on the trot recently and staying in the Top 14 remains the priority at this stage." - Injured La Rochelle lock David McGowan admits his side's priorities lie elsewhere.
"We will approach this game with the same mindset that we took into the victory over Biarritz. We will try to raise our game once again because we are aware that every match is a play-off game from now on." - Clermont coach Vern Cotter.
Prediction: Clermont to gain revenge for their Top 14 defeat as their superior form and resources come to the fore.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
"The thirst for knowledge has seen coaches break away from the confines of rugby and look to America." Tom Hamilton on the two-way learning process
On Saturday, New Zealand face the USA in a match that has been 40 years in the making. Tom Hamilton finds the atmosphere building in Chicago
Most modern rugby players will not know the name Ray Williams but they should be eternally grateful to him, writes John Taylor
With the All Blacks playing the USA Eagles this weekend, Craig Dowd says rugby is ready to make a professional breakthrough Stateside