Tuesday 22 August 2017

If we are all playing well, we're very tough to stop - Nick Abendanon confident Clermont can beat Leinster

Nick Abendanon, left, and Camille Lopez of ASM Clermont Auvergne celebrates at the final whistle of the European Rugby Champions Cup Pool 5 Round 4 match between ASM Clermont Auvergne and Ulster at Stade Marcel-Michelin in Clermont-Ferrand, France. (Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)
Nick Abendanon, left, and Camille Lopez of ASM Clermont Auvergne celebrates at the final whistle of the European Rugby Champions Cup Pool 5 Round 4 match between ASM Clermont Auvergne and Ulster at Stade Marcel-Michelin in Clermont-Ferrand, France. (Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Andrew Baldock

England international Nick Abendanon hopes Clermont Auvergne can make it a case of third time lucky in this season's European Champions Cup.

French challengers Clermont - European runners-up to Toulon in 2013 and 2015 - face Irish heavyweights and semi-final opponents Leinster at Stade de Gerland in Lyon on Sunday.

And Clermont back Abendanon, who won two caps in 2007, is upbeat about his team's prospects.

"We are carrying in some good form, and there is no reason why we can't go all the way," he said.

"We are fully aware that Leinster are a fantastic side as well, and that they pose lots of threats in attack and defence.

"If we can get through this one, then we give ourselves a great chance going into the final.

"I feel like the team has a better understanding, better rugby intelligence of how we want to play the game.

"We've got some key players - Camille Lopez, Morgan Parra and Remi Lamerat - who are vital to the team and in great form at the moment.

"They are integral parts of the machine. If we get going forward, then they control things very well for us.

"It's up to them to guide us in the right direction, and if they play well, then the whole team plays well. And if we are all playing well, we're very tough to stop."

Leinster will arrive in Lyon without their Ireland and Lions flanker Sean O'Brien.

O'Brien, who heads to New Zealand with the Lions next month, has been ruled out due to what Leinster say is tightness in his hamstring, and he will be assessed again ahead of next Friday's PRO12 game against Glasgow.

Rhys Ruddock comes into the team at blindside flanker, with Dan Leavy moving to openside, but Leinster's other 2017 Lions - centre Robbie Henshaw, fly-half Jonathan Sexton and props Jack McGrath and Tadhg Furlong - all start.

And Abendanon added: "They've got players with great skill in the back-line, who have a good understanding of the game. We know we need to be on top of our game.

"Sexton against Lopez will be a great match-up. He controls their game. If we do our analysis well, hopefully our experience will show and we will put them under pressure."

England international lock Dave Attwood, meanwhile, will start Bath's European Challenge Cup semi-final against Stade Francais in Paris on Sunday following four months out because of a knee injury.

Attwood partners Luke Charteris in the second row, while Bath's 2017 Lions - Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph and Taulupe Faletau - all start.

Bath rugby director Todd Blackadder said: "This is a huge opportunity for the club to make it into a European final, and we will be leaving no stone unturned to progress.

"Stade Francais are a very physical side with world-class players across the park, so we will have to be at our very best to ensure we are on the right side of the result on Sunday."

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