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Clermont

European Rugby Champions CupThe European Rugby Champions Cup semifinals takes place this weekend.

On Saturday, Clermont Auvergne host Saracens at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, Saint-Étienne at 16:15 French Time (15:15 BST, 14:15 GMT).

On Sunday, Toulon host Leinster at Stade Felix-Mayol, Toulon at 16:15 French Time (15:15 BST, 14:15 GMT).

 

Clemont Auvergne vs Saracens:

Saracens knocked Clermont Auvergne for 6 at the European Cup semifinal stage last season, will it be repeat or redemption this time around?

The 46 / 6 triumph booked McCall’s men a place in last seasons’ Millennium Stadium finale against Toulon. They set new semifinal records for the most points scored by a team (46), the largest winning margin (40) and the most tries scored (6). Surely lightning cannot strike twice between the Pool 1 rivals, who each scored a victory over each other in the early Rounds.

Saracens have their defensive leader, Brad Barritt, back in the side after a knee injury kept him out of action for a month. England playmaker Owen Farrell crossed for 1 of Saracens’ 6 tries last year and is set to make an impact off the bench after he was sidelined for 3 months in the last meeting between the pair.

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European Rugby Champions CupA bumper weekend of European cup action saw the semifinalists for the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup decided across 3 days.

After an enthralling set of games on Sunday, we now know that Clermont will play Saracens in Saint-Etienne, while Toulon will face Leinster in Marseille in what are set to be 2 titanic battles.

Champions Toulon remain in the hunt for what would be a 3rd successive European title. No side has ever achieved that before but Toulon unquestionably have the players to do so.

They were too smart and too strong for a stubborn Wasps outfit at the Stade Mayol on Sunday, winning with Juan Smith and Bryan Habana watching on from the stands due to injuries. Both are expected however to be in contention for the semifinals.

Bakkies Botha did start in the second row as Toulon won 14 out of 15 lineouts, contributing to their success. Another trophy or 2 for the cabinet remain on the horizon for the Springbok legend ahead of his retirement. Michael Claassens was on the bench.

Defeat for Wasps of course also meant defeat for Ashley Johnson, as the former Cheetahs back rower’s side fell short despite a late rally in the 2nd half. Twice European champions in the past, Wasps are certainly on the up again.

Toulon will face Leinster in the semifinals after Zane Kirchner’s side knocked out Francois Louw’s Bath in Dublin. The former Bulls back was called from the bench early on at the Aviva Stadium and nearly scored a try in the corner not long after his arrival.

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European Rugby Champions CupWith 3 of the 4 quarterfinals taking place on french soil, and all 3 of those against English opposition it could feel somewhat like the Hundred year war for the Premiership sides.

In the only non Anglo-French encounter, Bath travel to Leinster while the remaining fixtures sees Clermont Auvergne take on Premiership table-toppers Northampton Saints, Racing Metro will play last year’s finalists Saracens, and finally champions Toulon will face Wasps.

The record books show that in 72 quarterfinal encounters in Europe’s top flight, 54 have been won by the home club – a staggering 75% success rate for those sides on home soil.

Premiership clubs make up half the Champions Cup quarterfinalists, although all have to play away from home.

English teams have a 20% success rate away from home in the tournament, winning only 4 times in 20 quarterfinal games to date.

For the 9 away matches against French opposition, the success rate is as low as 11%, with only 1 win – Northampton Saints’ 7 / 6 victory over Biarritz Olympique in San Sebastian in 2007.

The only other English away victories in the last 8 have been Leicester Tigers over Leinster Rugby at Lansdowne Road in 2005, Bath at Leicester in 2006 and Saracens against Ulster at Kingspan Stadium last season.

The 3 French clubs in the Champions Cup quarterfinals have never lost at home in the last 8 of Europe’s top flight.

Toulon and Clermont have won home quarterfinals in the past 2 seasons, while Racing Metro have reached the knockout stage for the 1st time in their history.

The odds are definitely stacked against the English clubs, but that does not mean that any of the French teams will take them lightly.

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Jacques du Plessis

Jacques du Plessis

Flip van der Merwe

Flip van der Merwe

The Blue Bulls Company (Pty) Ltd on Friday confirmed that efforts to keep Vodacom Bulls locks Jacques du Plessis and Flip van der Merwe in Pretoria have been unsuccessful, with both players taking up contracts in France at the end of the domestic 2015 season.

Du Plessis has signed a two year deal with Montpellier and Van der Merwe will join Clermont, also after the completion of the ABSA Currie Cup competition.

The BBC’s High Performance Manager, Xander Janse van Rensburg said talks with both players have been ongoing for some time.

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European Rugby Champions CupJake White’s Montpellier bounced back from their comprehensive loss away from home to Glasgow Warriors last week by beating fellow French team Toulouse in their final European Rugby Champions Pool 4 match on Sunday. Montpellier won a closely contested match by the narrowest of margins with a final score of 27 / 26 in their favour.

This victory for Montpellier meant that Saracens qualified for the last eight of the Cup in spite of losing their last Pool 1 match against pool winners Clermont Auvergne. The score in that match Clermont Auvergne 18 / 6 Saracens.

The 5 pool winners along with the 3 best second placed team advanced and Saracens made it through as the last qualifying with the lowest amount of points from their 6 matches (17). Had Toulouse won they would have qualified as Pool 4 winners along with Bath who won their Pool 4 match against Glasgow Warriors. Toulouse also ended the pool stage on 17 points but Saracens got through via a superior points difference, +14 versus Toulouse’s +2.

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Zac Guildford

Zac Guildford

French rugby club Clermont will be without Zac Guildford for up to four weeks after the former All Black and teammate Jonathan Davies were assaulted.

The 25-year-old Kiwi, who had a record of ill discipline off the pitch in New Zealand before he made the move to France in the summer, was left with a badly-bruised jaw.

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Zac Guildford

Zac Guildford

Zac Guildford is looking to put his past alcohol-fuelled misdemeanours behind him and launch a new chapter in his impressive rugby career with Clermont.

The bad-boy of New Zealand rugby has had his fair share of run-ins with both rugby authorities and the law, but now he says he has a more mature head on his 25-year-old shoulders.

“I made some mistakes in my youth. The time had come to make some changes in my life and coming to Clermont was one of the best I could make,” he said.

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Aurelien Rougerie

Aurelien Rougerie

French police have questioned four men on Monday over a machete attack on rugby union internationals Aurelien Rougerie, Julien Pierre and Benjamin Kayser, officials said.

The three from French Top 14 side Clermont were set upon by about 10 armed men as they walked to their hotel in the southern town of Millau in the early hours of Sunday, according to police.

Clermont said that “machetes” and “swords” were used.

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Julien Pierre

Julien Pierre should be back in training before September

Clermont have released a statement on Julien Pierre, Aurélien Rougerie and Benjamin Kayser, saying they should return to training in a month.

The trio, who were attacked in Millau by a dozen individuals “armed with machetes, knives and swords” on Saturday night, were all hospitalised.

Pierre was in the most serious condition but the club confirmed his operation was a success and that he will be back training before September.

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Aurélien Rougerie

Aurélien Rougerie has been hospitalized

French internationals Benjamin Kayser, Julien Pierre and Aurélien Rougerie have been hospitalised following an attack in Millau.

The Clermont trio were attacked by a dozen individuals “armed with machetes, knives, swords” on Saturday night as the players returned to their hotel, according to the club’s website.

The players have been staying in the southern town in France for a training camp and were returning from a nightclub at the time of the attack. All three were then rushed to hospital.

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Heineken CupThe European Cup draws towards the Final with two french giants battling against the cream of the Irish and English leagues in the semifinals.

Reigning European Cup champions, Toulon, are aiming for a fourth European final in five seasons.

And although they are on the opposite side of the semifinal draw from French compatriots Clermont, successes for both of these teams could see a repeat of last years Final.

Last year’s Final saw Toulon just pip Clermont by a solitary point.

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Clermont AuvergneClermont’s entire rugby union squad were drug tested on Thursday morning before the French Top 14 side meet English club Leicester in the Heineken Cup quarter-finals on Saturday.

The mass testing was carried out before the morning training session with the club claiming that the tests were commissioned by the International Rugby Board (IRB).

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Heineken CupAmlin Challenge CupRound 6 of the European Cup, which includes the Heineken Cup (Premier Competition) and Amlin Challenge Cup (secondary Qualification Competition) happened this past weekend and there was high drama and lots of action!

Sunday evening the full puzzle of who plays where in the Play-Off’s of both the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge cup was revealed.

In the Heineken Cup, Ulster will host Saracens, ASM Clermont Auvergne will host Leicester Tigers, whilst the defending champions Toulon will host Leinster and Munster will host Toulouse at Thomond Park. The Quarter-finals will take place on the weekend of 4 to 6 April.

In the Amlin Challenge Cup Northampton Saints, Harlequins and Gloucester have booked their spots in the Quarter-finals along with the amlin Challenge Cup Pool winners Bath, London Wasps, Stade Francais, Sale Sharks and Brive.

Bath will host Brive, London Wasps will host Gloucester, Stade Francais host Harlequins and Sale Sharks will host Northampton Saints.

The race to these Cup winners will be interrupted by the Six Nations tournament, which takes place from 1 February 2014.

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This one is brilliant, tears rolling down my cheeks I laughed so much. Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal can expect to hear from the Ligue Nationale de Rugby’s disciplinary officials after making some outrageous statements over the weekend.

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