Perpignan eye back-to-back titles
May 28, 2010
Can Clermont, and giant wing Napolioni Nalaga, finally break their duck? © Getty Images
One of world rugby's longest-standing ducks could be broken on Saturday as Clermont Auvergne go in search of revenge against Perpignan in the Top 14 final at the Stade de France.
Les Jaunards have the unwanted tag as France's perennial bridesmaids, having made 10 finals and lost them all, including last year's showpiece to Perpignan. The sang et or ended a wait of over half a century with that victory, achieved thanks to centre David Marty's try and a cool kicking performance from fullback Jerome Porical.
Porical's worth was again evident in the semi-finals, when his 21-point haul was enough to see off Heineken Cup winners Toulouse 21-13 at the Stade de la Mosson in Montpellier. His father lost a final with USAP in 1977 and his grandfather lifted the Bouclier de Brennus in 1938 but while Porical's personal history is a memorable one, the collective pain and yearning for success is writ large throughout the Clermont squad.
Their semi-final was a rollercoaster affair won 39-25 in extra time against Toulon at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard in Saint-Etienne, and they will have to go above and beyond to overturn Perpignan, who finished the regular season on top of the pile for the second year running. Confidence is high in the champions' camp, with coach Jacques Brunel lauding them as the real deal after they cemented their place at the forefront of the French game.
"By finishing first in the pool again, we have gained legitimacy," he told Midi Olympique. "That is, we feel legitimate to go and play a second final in a row and have the ambition to achieve the double."
The league meetings between the finalists went with home advantage as both sides used their enviable home support to their gain. Clermont's 22-17 victory in March was an ill-disciplined affair punctuated by Anthony Floch's try but Perpignan's 19-3 victory at the Aime Giral at the start of the season was a masterclass in brooding menace from the pack.
Both sides experienced disappointment in Europe this season, Perpignan capitulating at the group stages with a home thrashing from Munster and Clermont losing out narrowly to Leinster in the last eight, but can achieve their main objective this weekend.
Perpignan have given Gavin Hume every chance to prove his fitness, bracketing the fly-half in the starting side along with Nicolas Laharrague. Wing Farid Sid has failed to prove his fitness but there is plenty of attacking cut and thrust in the backs with Maxime Mermoz and David Marty named in the centre.
Henry Tuilagi starts at No.8 while the champions have gone for a monster front row in Nicolas Mas, Guilhem Guirado and Perry Freshwater. There will be a titanic battle in the scrums as Clermont have named the equally combative trio of Thomas Domingo, Mario Ledesma and Martin Scelzo in an unchanged XV.
Brock James and Morgan Parra start at halback with Aurelien Rougerie again called on at No.13. Anthony Floch, Julien Malzieu and Napolioni Nalaga are the back three.At this stage of the season, handling pressure is everything. Perpignan, and particularly Porical, showed their icy temperament against Toulouse, but can Clermont use their years of hurt as a spur to finally lift top prize?
Perpignan: J Porical, A Plante, D Marty, M Mermoz, C Manas; G Hume/N Laharrague, N Durand, P Freshwater, G Guirado, N Mas, O Olibeau, R Watchou, O Tonita, JP Perez, H Tuilagi
Replacements: M Tincu, J Schuster, G Vilacéca, G Le Corvec , D Mele, N Laharrague or P Burger, D Mele, K Pulu
Clermont Auvergne: A Floch; N Nalaga, A Rougerie, M Joubert, J Malzieu; B James, M Parra; T Domingo, M Ledesma, M Scelzo, J Cudmore, T Privat, J Bonnaire, A Lapandry, E Vermeulen
Replacements: B Cabello, D Zirakashvili, J Pierre, A Audebert, K Senio, T Lavea, G Canale, V Debaty
Huw Baines is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
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