2 teams here with a stack of European experience. Munster are twice winners of this competition while Clermont have been to the latter stages of Europe, be it the H or Amlin Cup, in each of the last 4 seasons.
Clermont are the chokers of world rugby having lost 2 x semis in the H Cup and a semi in the Amlin in the last 3 seasons as well as 3 x top 14 finals in 3 years 2007-2009 before finally winning one the following year. Who can forget the Brock James horror show v Leinster when missing kick after kick, but to their credit they keep coming back year after year with stronger squads and better performances. They are unbeaten again in the H Cup and sit top of the Top 14 and although this won’t be at the fortress of Stade Michelin it is just down the road in Montpellier.
Munster have had a shocking year in the Rabo league, not even making the top 4 for the playoffs. They had a bumpy ride in Europe but did beat fellow Semi finalist Saracens, squeezing through qualification by virtue of scoring more tries than Leinster and then produced a great performance to physically outplay Harlequins in the quarter finals. They are welcoming players back to the fold all the time from injury but the back row does look a little inexperienced for such a big match.
Clermont by 10 is the handicap marker and again I think they have this about right. Munster are not going to open this game up for Clermont to destroy them but Munster are going to have to rely on keeping this close to try to sneak a win and rely on James to choke again. I would think Munster will rely on O Gara to play the percentages and hope for mistakes from Clermont but Clermont just look to have that many options I can’t see this working. If pushed I think Clermont can beat the handicap.
Clermont: 15 Lee Byrne, 14 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 13 Regan King, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Naipolioni Nalaga, 10 Brock James, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Damien Chouly, 7 Julien Bardy, 6 Julien Bonnaire, 5 Nathan Hines, 4 Jamie Cudmore, 3 Davit Zirakashvili, 2 Benjamin Kayser, 1 Thomas Domingo.
Replacements: 16 Ti’i Paulo, 17 Vincent Debaty, 18 Clement Ric, 19 Julien Pierre, 20 Alexandre Lapandry, 21 Ludovic Radosavljevic, 22 Jean Marcel Buttin, 23 Noa Nakaitaci or David Skrela.
Munster: 15 Felix Jones, 14 , 13 Casey Laulala, 12 James Downey, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Ronan O’Gara, 9 Conor Murray, 8 James Coughlan, 7 Tommy O’Donnell, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 Paul O’Connell (c), 4 Donnacha Ryan, 3 BJ Botha, 2 Mike Sherry, 1 David Kilcoyne.
Replacements: 16 Damien Varley, 17 Wian du Preez, 18 John Ryan, 19 Billy Holland, 20 Paddy Butler, 21 Cathal Sheridan, 22 Ian Keatley, 23 Denis Hurley.