Sarries out to frustrate Clermont
January 20, 2011
David Strettle scored against Clermont in round one © Getty Images
Saracens will draw a line under their disappointing Heineken Cup campaign against Clermont Auvergne on Friday night, with the French champions still in the hunt for a best runners-up spot.
With Leinster having qualified for the last eight thanks to last weekend's 43-20 win over Sarries, Clermont require a victory to influence proceedings and other results to go their way, but as ever with the French giants domestic concerns may well take front seat.
The teams met at the Stade Marcel Michelin in the opening round, when the home side ran out 25-10 victors.
Saracens - Player to Watch: David Strettle is back in the England reckoning after winning back his place in the Elite Player Squad and he will want to erase any doubts about his credentials prior to the Six Nations.
Saracens - Team News: Saracens were left counting the injury cost of last weekend's loss to Leinster in training this week, with Steve Borthwick (shoulder), Hugh Vyvyan (ankle), Michael Tagicakibau (hamstring) and Gavin Henson (calf) all ruled out. Nils Mordt starts at inside-centre alongside Brad Barritt, while Hayden Smith and Mouritz Botha are drafted into the second-row. Chris Wyles returns from injury at fullback.
Clermont Auvergne - Player to Watch: He doesn't get many opportunities to showcase his wares, but former Sarries wing Brent Russell will be keen to impress against his old club.
Clermont Auvergne - Team News: Clermont are without a number of big names due to injury. Skipper Aurelien Rougerie has recovered sufficiently to take a place on the bench although former All Black No.8 Sione Lauaki, fly-half Brock James and prop Davit Zirakashvili are out. Elvis Vermeulen starts at the base of the scrum and skippers the side, while Tasesa Lavea is joined at halfback by Kevin Senio. Wesley Fofana and Marius Joubert are named in midfield.
Key Battle: Without James and Morgan Parra, Clermont are shorn of their rudder, but Lavea and Senio are high quality players and will hope to get the upper hand on Owen Farrell in order to unleash a typically imposing three-quarter line.
Trivia: While Saracens were slipping to defeat at the Stade Marcel Michelin back in October, their former director of rugby, Brendan Venter, was shooting dead a black mamba snake that had invaded his parents' home close to the Kruger National Park.
Stats: Despite their losses to Leinster and Racing Metro, at Wembley and Vicarage Road respectively, Saracens have won eight of their last 10 home games in the Heineken Cup.
"We're a side that is pretty new to the Heineken Cup and playing in this group has been a steep learning curve. We aspire to be among the likes of Leinster and Munster but this can be an unforgiving competition. There were a number of lessons out there for our young players but to be fair, they are getting stuck in." - Saracens boss Mark McCall
Prediction: Clermont are some way shy of full strength and will find Saracens unwilling to budge. Narrow home win.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
The Scotland coach enters his first Six Nations with at least one familiar face to look to for inspiration - Joe Schmidt. He chats to Tom Hamilton
Italy coach Jacques Brunel spoke to ESPN ahead of his final season as Italy coach and tells of his desire to experiment and evolve
"There's no bull with me, I just tell it straight." Tom Hamilton talks to Warren Gatland in an exclusive interview
With the retirement of Adam Jones, Welsh rugby says goodbye to a great player and one of its biggest personalities too, writes Tom Hamilton