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Tuesday 21 November 2017

Sarries to go back to back

Clermont v Saracens Live Sky Sp 3 & BTSport, KO 5.0

Mark McCall
Mark McCall

Mark McCall could be aptly described as 'The Quiet Man' of rugby.

Sure, the former Ireland centre will show his teeth when he has to, like being adamant Chris Ashton will regret his decision to leave the English club for France in the summer.

By and large, the Bangor man is straight-forward in his on-screen behaviour and magnanimous in defeat, not that he has to be all that often.

The simple fact Saracens have five British & Irish Lions in their pack, all of them in contention to start a test in New Zealand, tells almost the whole story.

Stifled

They have to be stifled at source at scrum and lineout. The former is far more likely than the latter.

This is also Owen Farrell's last chance to show Warren Gatland why he should be preferred to Jonathan Sexton as The Lions test fly-half.

Afterall, the European Cup final is the closest thing to international rugby in the northern hemisphere.

The problem for Farrell is that he does not have the rounded appreciation to think multiple moves ahead as Sexton has been progressed to do by his long relationship with Joe Schmidt.

However, Farrell is closer in style to what Gatland is looking for as a functional fly-half blessed with natural leadership skills, a bullet-proof goal-kicking mindset and genetically gifted his father's competitiveness and durability.

Clermont have come up short too many times on too many big days to have any conviction about their capacity to come out on top in the give and take of what is certain to be a brutal physical battle.

They have the half-backs in Morgan Parra and Camille Lopez and the muscle of centre Remi Lamerat to unlock any structure.

They will also have the backing of most of the neutrals at Murrayfield.

"It is unbelievable how much support they will get from the neutrals, who will want to see them win after losing two finals," said McCall.

"It takes a certain type of club to keep coming back as they have done. They are constantly in the top two in the Top 14 and reaching the knock-out stages of the Champions Cup," he said.

"There is something different about them compared to other French teams. They have been together for a long time and have a real core to them - you can see the spirit."

When it comes to spirit, it is wise to take that of a proven winner over that of a perennial loser.

For all of Clermont's rip-roaring power, they were taken to the brink by a Leinster outfit nowhere near their peak, in terms of their years in development.

Saracens have been able to reach the top of the game and stay there for the last two years, achieving the Champions Cup-Premiership League double in 2016.

They know their game plan and each other inside out.

It should be enough.

Clermont: S Spedding; D Strettle, A Rougerie, R Lamerat, N Abendanon; C Lopez, M Parra; R Chaume, B Kayser, D Zirakashvili, A Iturria, S Vahaamahina, D Chouly (capt), P Yato, F Lee.

Saracens: A Goode; C Ashton, M Bosch, B Barritt (capt), C Wyles; O Farrell, R Wigglesworth; M Vunipola, J George, V Koch, M Itoje, G Kruis, M Rhodes, J Wray, B Vunipola.

Verdict: Saracens

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