herald

Wednesday 7 December 2016

Clermont can be champions

French fancies can deliver like Leinster and Munster

RARELY have the head and the heart been so much at odds in a match in which Irish outsiders have so little invested in the outcome between the French power-brokers at Twickenham this evening.

For Clermont, read through the history of Leinster and Munster.

Heartbreak upon heartbreak sowed the seeds of doubts in many minds.

The Irish provinces reached the top of the mountain so many times without planting their flags at the summit.

This all changed for Munster in 2006; for Leinster in 2009.

Surely, the time has come for 'Les Jaunards' to shed the tag of under-achievers, to be kind, or 'bottlers', to be cruel.

The common sense, evidence-based portal can see only one winner, that unlikeable lot from Toulon where everything worth having in rugby is bought for a premium price.

Toulon is a big boy's toy and their owner Mourad Boudjellal has been known to throw those toys right out of his pram whenever he doesn't get exactly what he wants.

The employment of former French coach Bernard Laporte in 2011 finally brought a steadying influence and deep-seated respect to the helm and the silverware to what is now the biggest-spending, biggest winning club in Europe.

MACHINE

The machine rolls relentlessly on. The conveyor belt will see over-the-hill world-stars, like Springbok legend Bakkies Botha and All Black Ali Williams, being replaced by Northampton duo Samu Manoa and Salesi Ma'afu and All Black Ma'a Nonu.

Most interestingly, they will also be commandeering the services of Clermont's sought-after wing Naipolioni Nalaga, a real wrecking ball of a finisher.

At the moment, Toulon do look a little leg-weary and do not have the cool control at fly-half once delivered by Jonny Wilkinson.

They have sacrificed the unpredictability of Freddie Michalak for the natural instincts of Matt Giteau.

This is a real hit or miss decision.

There is a strong argument to make that Brock James's flaky finishing has reflected Clermont's failure in Europe, none more glaring than his litany of misses against Leinster in the quarter-final at The RDS in 2010.

The outcome rests more with how Clermont deal with the occasion emotionally and mentally than with anything Toulon will bring.

The champions are proven. They will hunt an unprecedented third straight European Cup with all the cold-headed assurance of having done it before.

It is bordering on habit.

Clermont have to break their bad habits to make it happen.

Clermont: N Abendanon; N Nakaitaci, J Davies, W Fofana, N Nalaga; B James, M Parra; V Debaty, B Kayser, D Zirakashvili, J Cudmore, S Vahaamahina, J Bonnaire, D Chouly (capt), F Lee.

Toulon: L Halfpenny; D Mitchell, M Bastareaud, JM Hernandez, B Habana; M Giteau, S Tillous-Borde; X Chiocci, G Guirado, C Hayman (capt), B Botha, A Williams, J Smith, S Armitage, C Masoe.

VERDICT: Clermont

champions Cup final, CLERMONT v TOULON, TODAY (SS3, BT1, 5.0)

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