Canal+ France, ESPN UK, Setanta Ireland
If you read the Toulouse preview, you’ll remember I alluded to Toulouse being pragmatic and only doing what they needed to in the season run-in. In similar fashion, I believe Clermont realized that they were never in any real danger of Toulon catching them for the second home semi-final spot, and so reacted to Toulouse and what they did. They finished off the league with a hammering for Brive, putting 57 points on them in an attempt to overhaul Toulouse (both finished level on points). Had Montpellier got a late converted try v Toulouse in their last game, Clermont would have topped the group (Small margins and all that). Clermont’s form is hard to fathom as they seem to be able to turn it on when they want to, while at the same time they lost by 11 points away at Castres, when they should have at least got a bonus point, and a resurgent Biarritz beat them by a point in a game they should have won (both of those games were away). We must remember though that they just were off the back of a brutal encounter with Leinster in the HCup semi-final for the Castres game. This Clermont squad are a phenomenal bunch of players, and any team will find them hard to beat; arguably they would be Heineken cup Champions right now had Fofana been able ground a ball, even taking into account the odd decisions by Wayne Barnes in their favour in the last 20 minutes of the Semi against Leinster. This game should be a tight affair, but with the Jekyll and Hyde performances from Toulon over the past few months, who knows.
Meanwhile, Toulon are in a semi-final thanks to the complete collapse of a Racing Metro side that just decided to stop playing with any structure five minutes in the second half of a playoff that they were winning by ten points. I’m convinced they just got stage fright and bottled it. Toulon were rudderless, and Wilkinson has been strangely absent when the chips were down lately and defeat imminent- both here, and in the Challenge cup final against Biarritz. Giteau took over kicking and distribution and eventually helped them through against a Racing side caught in the headlights of a disjointed money machine. In the league run-in, the only victory of note for Toulon was the beating of a half-interested Toulouse side at home by three points. They won their other easy fixtures at home, while away from home they lost to Agen (ok, we all have bad days) and Brive at the end of March! Toulon just haven’t been gelling, and their form is hardly that of a side that can win this cup, or beat the excellence of Clermont. They’ve got to be pretty tired and knackered after the Racing game too- Racing may have wilted, but they didn’t go down without a fight, and Toulon had to work hard for the victory.
Team news isn’t out yet, but it’s likely that many big names will be back for Clermont. Byrne, Buttin, Malzieu, Bonnaire, and crucially, Nathan Hines look like they should make it. Hayman is still out on suspension for Toulon, and as mentioned in the playoff preview, this has serious negative repercussions for their lineout as well as their scrum.
I can’t see past Clermont here. If you’re a big hitter, the ½ available isn’t as bad as it looks for the straight win. Toulon won’t be allowed back into the game like Racing let them. Toulon look to me like the bunch of mercenaries they are, and they don’t look like a threat to arguably the second best club team around right now after Leinster. Clermont could open up on Toulon early, knowing that to start cautiously will be to keep them in it, and with the hot weather , and no boggy ground, anything can happen with ten to go and a score in it.
Clermont -4 is a great bet at 10/11; I don’t think it will last long.
If you’re looking for bigger odds, the Clermont 13+ appeals on the basis of the above at 3/1
I’ll put try scorers-for-a-flutter up when available
Weather- Hot, muggier than Toulouse, with a chance of Thunderstorms. Pay close attention to the weather, as if it’s very wet, the Toulon/Clermont HT/FT could appeal.