Lovell Rugby’s Heineken Cup Semi Finals Preview
We’re down to the final four in this season’s Heineken Cup and there are two blockbuster matches to look forward to. Saracens, Clermont Auvergne, Toulon and Munster all came out victorious in their respective quarter-final ties and are now only one step away from a place in the final. Ironically these four teams are the same four teams that were left at this stage of the competition last year.
All four teams are filled with international stars and their experience of dealing with the atmosphere and pressure in big games is sure to be priceless. Although Saracens and Toulon will be in their home countries, both teams have had to re-locate for their respective matches. Twickenham plays host to the first semi-final between Saracens and Clermont Auvergne and then on Sunday Munster travel to the Stade Velodrome in Marseille to take on reigning champions Toulon.
Saracens v Clermont Auvergne (Saturday 26th April, 3:40pm GMT)
Saracens XV - Alex Goode, Chris Ashton, Marcelo Bosch, Brad Barritt, David Strettle, Owen Farrell, Neil de Kock, Billy Vunipola , Jacques Burger, Kelly Brown, Mouritz Botha, Steve Borthwick, James Johnston, Schalk Brits, Mako Vunipola
Clermont Auvergne XV - Lee Byrne, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Benson Stanley, Wesley Fofana, Naipolioni Nalaga, Brock James, Morgan Parra, Fritz Lee, Damien Chouly, Julien Bonnaire, Nathan Hines, Jamie Cudmore, Davit Zirakashvili, Benjamin Kayser, Thomas Domingo
It will all be very familiar for Sarries as it was at this stage of the competition last year and at this stadium that they were knocked out by a French side. If the Vunipola brothers and the rest of the Saracens pack can get them going forward then this will give Owen Farrell the opportunity to release their impressive back line which includes the tournaments current top try scorer Chris Ashton. The coaches have opted to start the experienced Neil de Kock at scrum half however so expect to see Richard Wigglesworth enter the fray early in the second half to up the Saracens tempo.
Can Clermont take their home form with them to Twickenham? Last season’s runners-up now boast an incredible record of 76 home wins in a row but it is their inability to win games on the road which has been letting them down. Julien Bonnaire missed the quarter- final against the Leicester Tigers but is back to lead the side this weekend and the blindside flanker will surely be looking to make up for lost time. Another absentee from the Leicester game but returning on Saturday is All Black Sitiveni Sivivatu. He has made 14 clean breaks so far in this season’s competition and that is sure to increase at Twickenham.
LR Prediction: Saracens 22 – 20 Clermont Auvergne
Look out for: Owen Farrell – This time last year the England number 10 was given a fly half master class by Jonny Wilkinson but the lessons that he learnt in that game could help him steer Saracens to the final. If he can maintain a cool head and keep the scoreboard ticking over then there is a good chance that there will be English representation in Cardiff.
Toulon vs Munster (Sunday 27th April, 3:30pm GMT)
Toulon XV - Delon Armitage, Drew Mitchell, Mathieu Bastareaud, Matt Giteau, Bryan Habana, Jonny Wilkinson, Sebastien Tillous-Borde, Steffon Armitage, Juan Fernandez Lobbe, Juan Smith, Jocelino Suta, Danie Rossouw, Carl Hayman, Craig Burden, Xavier Chiocci
Munster XV - Felix Jones, Keith Earls, Casey Laulala, James Downey, Simon Zebo, Ian Keatley, Conor Murray, James Coughlan, Sean Dougall, CJ Stander, Paul O’Connell, Dave Foley, BJ Botha, Damien Varley, Dave Kilcoyne
Toulon are looking to make it back-to-back Heineken Cup wins after last season’s victory in Dublin. The return of Jonny Wilkinson and Bryan Habana is sure to boost the French side with the pair having nearly 200 international caps between them as well as a World Cup medal each. Bakkies Botha and Ali Williams miss out again through injury so it will be up to Danie Rossouw to lead once again in the same way he did at the Stade Mayol a couple of weeks ago against Leinster. Steffon Armitage continues in the number 8 shirt with Juan Fernandez Lobbe and Juan Smith either side of him.
Out of the four quarter-final matches, Munster’s 47-23 win over Toulouse was by far the most comfortable. The scored an impressive 6 tries which was backed up by 17 points from the boot of Ian Keatley. The 27 year old has done a brilliant job this season replacing Ronan O’Gara and is currently the joint top points scorer in this season’s competition. Munster will need to be at their defensive best to keep out a Toulon attack that has the ability to strike from anywhere on the pitch. Peter O’Mahony was injured in the match against Toulouse and will not feature in Marseille on Sunday.
LR Prediction: Toulon 19 – 16 Munster
Look out for: Paul O’Connell – The Stade Mayol faithful will be in Marseille on Sunday and are sure to make the setting as hostile as possible for the visitors. We doubt that this will have any impact on the second row forward after some of the monumental battles he has been involved in over the years for Munster, Ireland and the British & Irish Lions.