Toulon out to end Clermont's crusade
May 13, 2010
Morgan Parra will be vital to Clermont Auvergne's efforts © Getty Images
Clermont Auvergne's quest for their maiden Top 14 title will continue this weekend as they take on Toulon in a high-pressure semi-final at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard in Saint Etienne.
Les Jaunards have an unwanted tag as the tournament's perennial bridesmaids, having lost 10 finals in their history, including the last four at the Stade de France. Last season's loss to Perpignan was galling as their rivals celebrated the end of a 54-year wait for top prize, but securing revenge in the final is a long way away given the recent form of Les Toulonnais.
With a place in the European Challenge Cup final against Cardiff Blues already in the bag and a two-week rest following their bye for finishing second, Philippe Saint Andre's troops have plenty of reasons to smile heading into the clash.
Clermont stuttered towards the end of the season and were made to work hard by Racing in last weekend's play-off game, but they will point to battle readiness and greater experience in this rarefied atmosphere as plusses. Toulon have not reached the last four in the Top 14 since 1995.
Toulon, promoted from Pro D2 two seasons ago under the steam of wealthy owner Mourad Boudjellal, now possess a squad ready to take any scalp available, as Clermont found out back in September with a 26-21 loss at the Mayol. Nevertheless the men in yellow can claim to have the wood over their rivals after smashing them 39-3 in a five-try rout in January.
Clermont are sweating the fitness of fly-half Brock James, hooker Mario Ledesma and No.8 Elvis Vermeulen prior to the game, with Ledesma having also missed out against Racing due to a troublesome knee injury. Scrum-half Morgan Parra has spent part of the week training with French kicking coach Gonzalo Quesada as he prepares to take on the place-kicking responsibility from James, having slotted 15 of their 21 points last time out.
Toulon have enjoyed an injury-free build-up to the game and will be brimming with confidence given their recent form, which includes league wins over Biarritz, Castres, Toulouse and Perpignan.
Clermont Auvergne: Forwards: Audebert, Bonnaire, Cabello, Cudmore, Debaty, Domingo, Jacquet, Lapandry, Ledesma, Pierre, Privat, Scelzo, Vermeulen, Wepener, Zirakashvili
Backs: Canale, Floch, James, Joubert, Lavea, Malzieu, Nalaga, Parra, Rougerie, Russell, Senio.
Toulon: Forwards: Auelua, Bruno, Chesney, El Abd, Emmanueli, Fernandez Lobbe, Fitzgerald, Kubriashvili, Lea'aetoa, Lozada, Missoup, Ryan, Skeate, Suta, Taumoepeau, Van Niekerk (capt)
Backs: Cibray, Contepomi, Kefu, Lovobalavu, Marienval, May, Mignoni, Rooney, Umaga, Williams
Monday Maul takes in retirement talk, England reshuffles, France's unfair advantage and Scotland's communication breakdown
John Griffiths takes an analytical look at Week 3 of ESPN Scrum's Fantasy Rugby game - who should you have picked?
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt won the tactical battle and set his team on course for a shot at the Grand Slam. Tom Hamilton reports from Dublin
With the World Cup only a few months away, the last thing France needed was doubts over the future of their coach, writes Huw Richards