Thursday 17 August 2017

Analysing the chances of a dream all Irish Champions Cup final

Clarke: “For Munster, playing in Ireland is going to add to your performance, there’s absolutely no doubt about that and that’s going to be a huge challenge for Saracens." Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

The odds of a Munster v Leinster final in the Guinness PRO12 shortened over the weekend, but if the Irish dream final for the Champions Cup is to be realised it will take a pair of shocks to pull it off.

The bookmakers have deemed a Saracens v Clermont showdown at Murrayfield a more likely scenario on May 13.

On Saturday, the provinces took different approaches to their interprovincial meetings, but got the desired results. Leinster rested most of those who will start on Sunday, while Munster rolled out their big guns.

Both will require much better performances next weekend, however, as this is a major step up in class.

Their opponents have both been operating at the elite edge of this tournament consistently since Leinster last won the Heineken Cup in 2012.

Saracens are the current holders and have been to the last four in each of the last four seasons, while Clermont are a perennial last four team whose blip came last season when they missed out on the pool stages.

Part of the reason they were squeezed out in a tight pool was their defeat to Ulster at Kingspan Stadium. The northern province have also got plenty of recent history with Saracens and their forwards coach Allen Clarke assessed the scale of the challenge.

"There are four quality squads in the knockouts," he said.

"Saracens are a bit of a machine come this time of year, they've got class all around, they work hard for one another. They're very efficient in terms of where they play the game, defensively they're well organised and they don't miss too many tackles.

"When they get close to your line they just squeeze you and apply pressure. They also have game-breakers.

"Clermont has massive talent, but we at Ulster have shown that if you take that on (you can get a result).

"For Munster, playing in Ireland is going to add to your performance, there's absolutely no doubt about that and that's going to be a huge challenge for Saracens.

"The beauty for Leinster is that they're going to Lyon, they're not going to Clermont itself, and in many respects the French will see that as an away game as much as anything.

"Leinster have done it over there in the past, we wish them both well."

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There has been plenty of change at Leinster since they last faced Clermont in a semi-final in France.

That 2012 victory in Bordeaux remains one of their finest and Sean O'Brien is one of the survivors who will be imparting some of that experience this week.

"The physicality is one of the things that I remember. Any game you played against Clermont you would be hurting after it and there is some really smart players and some really strong guys as well out in the backs," he said.

"Set-piece is massive, especially away from home. And they are used to it, you know, in their competition week-in, week-out, in the scrum, in the line-out and, in fairness, Clermont try and play a bit as well.

"It will be something different for them (the younger players), because you are going into a different environment over there.

"I suppose we would help them out as best we can and mind them as best we can.

"The younger lads are full of confidence, so I don't think much will faze those lads."

Clermont warmed up with a nine-try win over struggling Grenoble away from home on Saturday, while Saracens rested most of their front-liners in their comeback win over Northampton Saints, but welcomed England second-row George Kruis back for the game.

"They are the standard bearers," Munster's Peter O'Mahony said. "We are going to have our work seriously cut out.

"If you'd asked a lot of people on day one of this competition would we be here, I'd have had a smile if any of them said yeah.

"You've got to enjoy it, it's just 80 minutes now. It's a big week for us, we've got to enjoy it, but we've got to get our detail right."

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