Sarries all set for Clermont test
April 6, 2012
Owen Farrell will want to put the boot into Clermont Auvergne © Getty Images
After last weekend's record-breaking antics at Wembley, Saracens return to Vicarage Road on Sunday to face Clermont Auvergne in a game that will test their mettle as a Heineken Cup power.
Sarries are in contention for top prize domestically and in Europe, despite last weekend's high-profile loss to Harlequins, and are keen to cement their place among the game's elite sides. The same goes for Clermont, who have flattered to deceive at times in recent seasons.
Both teams will go hammer and tongs for a spot in the semi-finals, with Saracens likely to back their watertight defensive structures against the visitors' powerful ball-carriers and pacy back-row.
Saracens - Player to Watch: Brad Barritt, fresh from marshalling England's defence during the Six Nations, returns for Saracens and will be absolutely vital as they aim to restrict the visitors.
Saracens - Team News: Along with Barritt, Wales international Rhys Gill returns at loose-head. Will Fraser continues to deputise at openside flanker while Charlie Hodgson is at fly-half. Owen Farrell, England's incumbent No.10, remains at outside-centre.
Clermont Auvergne - Player to Watch: Wesley Fofana was France's shining light during the Six Nations but his form has been superb all season. The rapier to Saracens' broadsword.
Clermont Auvergne - Team News: Morgan Parra has been passed fit to start and the France scrum-half joins David Skrela at halfback. Fofana partners Aurelien Rougerie in midfield while Wales fullback Lee Byrne takes his place at the back alongside Julien Malzieu and Sitiveni Sivivatu. Julien Bonnaire, Alex Lapandry and Elvis Vermeulen are the back-row.
Key Battle: Saracens will not break this one open, so they must contain Clermont's strike runners. If the visitors get drawn into a kicking battle, then Sarries will fancy their chances.
Trivia: Despite their meagre European history, Sarries have progressed further in the Heineken Cup than Clermont, who are yet to make the semi-finals. The English champions made the last four in 2008, losing to eventual winners Munster.
Stats: Saracens' Pool record, played six, won five, lost one, is the reverse of their disappointing campaign last season, when they triumphed only once in the group stages.
"If you look at the likes of Toulouse, Leicester Tigers, Leinster and Munster, these are teams who have created a legacy in Europe…we want to do the same." - Saracens boss Mark McCall.
"We set ourselves the very difficult double target of wining the Top 14 and the Heineken Cup this season to mark the 100th anniversary of the club. This group of players has a lot of desire to win something after tasting success in the Top 14 final in 2010." - Clermont Auvergne coach Vern Cotter.
Prediction: Saracens were sub-par last weekend against Harlequins and should their defensive system fail again, expect Clermont to capitalise with a classy backline.
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