Clermont out to create history
April 27, 2012
Brock James had a horror show from the boot when the pair met back in the 2010 © Getty Images
Heineken Cup champions Leinster go up against Clermont Auvergne on Sunday looking to be only the fourth team in the competition's history to reach back-to-back finals.
Both teams are currently riding high in their leagues with Leinster topping the RaboDirect PRO12 and Clermont Auvergne locked in an epic battle for Top 14 Orange supremacy with Toulouse. But come Sunday at the Stade Chaban-Delmas in Bordeaux, all that will be put to one side.
Leinster have the better record in the competition than their opponents and eased past Cardiff Blues in the last eight to book their place in the semi-finals. Clermont, meanwhile, put in a performance of ruthless counter-attacking and defensive resilience to dispatch Premiership champions Saracens on their own turf.
Clermont Auvergne - Player to Watch: Brock James endured a torrid time the last time he faced Leinster but with David Skrela's injury, he will be the man to watch for Clermont. If he's on his game then Leinster will have a mission to keep him under control.
Clermont Auvergne - Team News: Lee Byrne starts at fullback with Sitiveni Sivivatu and Julien Malzieu on the wings. Aurelien Rougerie captains the side at outside centre with Wesley Fofana inside. James is at fly-half with Morgan Parra providing the guidance at scrum-half. The front-row sees Lionel Faure, Benjamin Kayser and Davit Zirakashvili all link up. In the second-row Jamie Cudmore and Nathan Hines provide the grunt while Julien Bonnaire, Alexandre Lapandry and Elvis Vermeulen form the back-row.
Leinster - Player to Watch: Rob Kearney is back to his British & Irish Lions Test best and gives Leinster a solid platform from the back of the field. If Leinster are to book their place in the final, then Kearney will need to be at his best.
Leinster - Team News: Gordon D'Arcy partners Brian O'Driscoll at centre with Luke Fitzgerald joining Isa Nacewa and Rob Kearney in the back three. Isaac Boss links up with Jonathan Sexton at half back. Cian Healy starts in the front row alongside Richardt Strauss and Mike Ross. Leo Cullen leads the team and partners All Black Brad Thorn at lock, with Shane Jennings joining fellow Ireland internationals Sean O'Brien and the returning Jamie Heaslip in the back row.
Key Battle: The battle between Aurelien Rougerie and Brian O'Driscoll promises to be fascinating. Both are club legends with huge experience and if one of them gets the better of his opposite number, then expect that club to prevail.
Trivia: The two coaches - Leinster's Joe Schmidt and Clermont's Vern Cotter - worked alongside each other at Clermont Auvergne and guided them to the 2010 Top 14 title.
Stats: The semi-final will be the second French-Irish last four contest at Stade Chaban Delmas with the other being Munster's 31-25 win over Toulouse in 2000. The stadium also staged the 2004 semi-final when Toulouse beat Biarritz Olympique.
"Both teams will be very strong and I just think the biggest winner is going to be European rugby because it's going to be a hell of a battle. Now it's about chasing silverware and it's a hell of a tough task that awaits us on Sunday." - Leinster boss Joe Schmidt.
Prediction: It's going to be a viciously fought and close match but expect the French side to just edge out the current champions.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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
Cards, kicks, slips and scores: It's The Week in Pictures, the finest snaps from the last seven days of rugby