LONDON, ENGLAND – The semi-finals of Europe’s most prestigious competition have arrived. Clermont will face off against Saracens for a place in the final, while Toulonand Munster will battle it out in the south of France. The weekend’s action should make for compelling viewing, with Vern Cotter’s last chance at European glory beckoning at the Stade Michelin, while Owen Farrell tries to become one of the youngest fly-halves to lead his team to a European final in the weekend’s other matchup.
Saracens v Clermont
Farrell will be slightly short of match fitness after two weeks on the sideline, but it is hard to argue that the Sarries aren’t England’s best club side at the moment. With a forward pack that is impactful in both the scrum and the loose, the London team’s power has told over the course of the season. Some of that impact could be blunted in this particular match however, as Toulon pride themselves on coming up big in the matches that matter most. Aurelian Rougerie is injured, so Benson Stanley will start at centre alongside Wesley Fofana. After losing his place in the England side during the past Six Nations, this is a massive opportunity for Sarries’ Brad Barritt to show that his defensive capabilities have fully recovered. Clermont have struggled away from the Stade Michelin, but they start the full pack of forwards that defeated Leicester three weeks ago. The kicking battle could be key, with Morgan Parra and Farrell handling shots at goal.
Six Pack Picks
Blaber: Sarries struggled to get by 14 man Ulster and I just want the perfect ending for Darth Cotter, so Les Jaunards for the upset in a half full Twickenham.
Hall: Clearmont are always a high quality side, but Sarries rested most of their top players last weekend, allowing them to come into this matchup fresh. I see a slim Saracens victory in the cards.
Yeats: Clermont because we don’t want the English near a trophy for a tournament they almost destroyed.
JWB: Sarries name is simply not fancy enough to hang with a squad named ASM Clermont Auvergne… And for the record, JWB will be given a good stern talking to by the Irish side of his family for picking against Munster. But they’ll quiet down when he brings in all the cash!
Loyd: Clermont just have far too much star power for Sarries to compete with.
Harrington: Clermont have always played well for Cotter and want to give him the Heineken Cup he deserves before heading off to the tough rebuilding job in Scotland.
Toulon v Munster
5,000 Munster supporters will head to the south of France to support the men in red, but it will be a tall order for the Irish to defeat Toulon on their home turf. Both Jonny Wilkinson and Bryan Habana are back from injury, though recent (sacrilegious) reports have suggested that Lord Jonny is having difficulty coping with the physicality of top-flight rugby in his final season. Steffon and Delon Armitage have been in spectacular form for Toulon, with Stuart Lancaster admitting this weekend that a call-up is not completely out of the question. Matt Giteau and Basteraud will start in the centres for Toulon, who have named one of the strongest sides to ever play in European competition. Munster will need a massive dose of discipline to deal with the French, and Peter O’Mahoney’s injury will not help their cause. Toulon’s back line is hugely impressive.
Six Pack Picks
Blaber: The incredible Munster run ends now. Toulon are more vulnerable playing in the Volodrome but Munster have health issues and Les Galatiques (sp) have too much fire power.
Hall: Toulon are just too strong, particularly at home. A Munster win would require absolutely everything going right, so I have to side with the French.
Yeats: Go forth ye mighty men of Munster and Ireland and show the world that pride in county, province, and country are more valuable than any fee paid to a hired gun.
JWB: Paul O’Connell said facing Toulon is like facing the All Blacks. That wasn’t demagoguery, they’re that good.
Loyd: Lord Jonny will go out the right way…by beating the Irish like a drum. Toulon in a cakewalk.
Harrington: Not too much to say that hasn’t been said, but the Top 14 sides have used their superior resources well. I see an all-French final.
That’s it for now. Feel free to comment below, look for and “Like” ourFacebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@: RugbyWrapUp,Junoir Blaber,DJ Eberle, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Cody Kuxmann, Jaime Loyd, Karen Ritter ,Jamie Wall, Jake Frechetteand Declan Yeats, respectively.