Heineken Cup semi-final betting – Saracens the wolfpick
For a game that I’ve been agonising over for the last week, this preview could easily have turned into a Sarries love parade after this last day’s deliberations. Let me first say I think Saracens are going to win. So with that in mind, I’ll run through the cons before I list off the pros.
Saracens v Clermont Rugby Betting Preview – Cons – Why Clermont might upset Saracens.
Well, first, they’re Clermont – everyone fears them, they have that ridiculous home record, and they’ve been here before. They’re a class team with superstars, a hard edge, and can beat anyone on their day – stating the obvious is a waste of time. This is their last chance as a group you feel for a couple of years with Cotter leaving and a few lads past their prime. So many near misses, so much heart-break, ever the bottlers. You definitely get the feeling it’s now or never for this core group of Clermont servants. It’s therefore a reasonable assumption for the Clermont-fancier to think the big push will come this weekend, and that they’ll give it everything.
And look at their backs. James, Nalaga, Sivivatu the genius, Byrne playing well enough, and Fofana the finisher. When you line Nalaga and Sivi up against Strettle and Ashton, you would be forgiven for having a little Vincent price giggle – it could (& should) be carnage. And let’s not forget Burger for Saracens – a yellow card magnet who loves playing filthy – so Clermont might even get to play against 14 men for a time.
And that’s it. That’s all I see as positive for les Jaunes. I just can’t help this love-in I’m feeling, for the ugly over-achieving red-headed Stepchild that is Saracens. Allow me to explain.
Pros – Why the Sarries Wolfpack ( shudder….) should win the day
Well, there’s a shit-load of reasons in my mind; so let’s try to match up my reasons with Clermont’s failings in those departments.
- Saracens have had two weeks rest. They had a high intensity dress rehearsal for this game versus Northampton two weeks ago where they played with openness and scored some excellent tries, showing great cohesion and understanding. They took the foot off the gas at the end but that was the Ulster remnants. Last week they sent the reserves up to Newcastle ( all except Goode who was coming off injury and needed some game time) so they’re totally fresh and ready to keep the tempo high. Clermont on the other hand were mired in a shitfest at hard-hitting-bunglers Racing Metro, with most of the first team playing, failing to make breakthroughs.They did turn up at Racing and tried to score(and win), but they were bested by a brutal Metro team pulling away at the end. It’s been a long season for Clermont, and they’re showing fatigue – no doubt about it.
- Saracens are a winning team. They’ve lost two games in the Aviva Premiership out of 20 games, and they lost one game in the Heineken Cup group stages to Toulouse by a point at home. Clermont have also lost just one game in the Heineken group stages (against v racing Metro interestingly, who have the best defence in the TOP14, like Saracens in the Premiership). But look at the TOP14 it’s a different story – just two away wins both v relegated Biarritz and likely relegated Perpignan. Now before you jump down my throat I know, TOP 14 away wins are like hen’s teeth this season – still, that’s no stat to be proud of. In truth they were lucky enough to beat Quins away in the qualifying stages too, and Quins weren’t in great form at that point; But for a seriously cruel bounce of the ball it would have likely been a Quins win ( Nalaga’s butchered earlier chance aside).
- Organisation. Saracens are a happy camp. There’s no way I can know the mood in the Clermont camp but I can infer from how they’re playing that all is not well. Cotter’s remarks about the players at the end of last season looks to have sucked the spark out of their play relative to the past few seasons when things seemed to be clicking for them much more. If you look at the preparation for this game it also looks perfect for Sarries after that good run against Saints and a full two weeks rest. You can bet the extensive Sarries backroom staff have analysed Clermont fully at this point and executed accordingly in training in the two weeks off.
- Main men in good form. Saracens look to be firing on all cylinders, with good backup in all positions – Hodgson has been dropped (his chargedowns might be missed v James but his tackling won’t) as Bosch can cover fly half; we saw last week his confidence is sky-high with a 56 metre penalty.
- Most of the team is playing well and look to be peaking, and Bosch has brought alot to Saracens’ game from his experience as probably the best Argentinian back around at the minute. The two Vunipola’s are well rested and ready to unleash that carrying ability on a tired Clermont backrow and a knackered Hines who has been giving away some daft Jim-Hamilton/Leo-Cullen-like penalties lately. Clermont have lost Captain Rougerie and his absence will be felt. A huge leader for club and country in these sorts of games (and the man who finally unlocked the Leicester defence if you recall), him missing leaves me looking around for leaders in this side in this type of game. Hines is in no form, looks very slow around the park, and he will leave holes. Sivivatu at a push for leader? He did look good last week returning from injury. Still, I’m looking for who pulls them together if things start going against them and I don’t see much bar Parra having a squawk.
In general freshness and hunger I just see Saracens as being the more likely winner here. Saracens were 100% on their lineout against Ulster and 100% in their scrum. I know Payne was missing and the ripple effect will have been felt, but that bodes well – along with two weeks practice. In general Saracens have been like that all season, owning their lineout, and own scrum ball. Clermont lost 4 throws against Leicester and they’ve only become more tired since then. As I said Hines looks in bad shape and I feel he’s a liability in the line, the lineout and the scrum.
Lining up both sets of players, there’s no doubt Clermont have an edge in the backs but the question is how much ball will they get from a likely dominant Sarries lineout and marginally dominant scrum.
One key thing I can’t shake out of my head in arriving at the decision to oppose Clermont is their fatigue (relevant to Sarries) and I believe it will tell in the second half particularly. Watching them, you just feel they’re tired, and they’re defending very narrowly – which should open things up for a Saracens side who look to be ramping up for a game of ball-in-hand attack. In the last two big games away from home they’ve conceded to a cross field kick – once against Leicester when they hadn’t the legs to get back and defend the cross field kick on half way, and once against Racing 6 days ago when Imhoff found acres of space from a cross kick. When you line that up against Saracens’ try-scoring exploits this season, it’s ominous for Clermont.
Clermont will expect Saracens to come out controlled and methodical but I don’t think that will happen – I’m expecting an all guns blazing start like the Northampton game, and the selection of De Kock at Scrum half backs that up as he’s much quicker than Wiggleworth. I’m expecting this to get Saracens ahead early, and I don’t think they’ll look back at a Clermont side I feel may be rudderless and past it’s prime. Tomorrow should be about making a statement for who they’ll face in the final, and all signs for me are pointing to an unexpected comfortable Saracens win. I’m very much in the minority and a one man wolfpack in our rugby betting forum, with many supporting Clermont, so don’t go too nuts. I’m confident though – Nigel to bring it home for the home side.
Recommended Rugby bets –
For the cautious – Saracens plus 4.5 on the no draw handicap in Boylesports
For the coy – Saracens to win at 6/4
For the courageous – Saracens to win by 13+ in Stan james at 12/1. I see this as a very real outcome as Sarries will want to make a statement and ensure they don’t get caught (fingers crossed for a Cudmore card and a bit of luck on this one)
For the chaser – Billy Vunipola for anytime try at 15/2 in Skybet looks generous. Ashton at 11/4 in Ladbrokes and Nalaga at 11/5 both look worthy of a punt depending on what side of the fence you’re on too
There’s a list of Free Rugby bets here
And lots more top info and opinion in our Rugby Betting forum here