You would have to be very brave to bet against Clermont in Saturday's Heineken Cup quarter-final against Montpellier.
You would have to be very brave, or just plain crazy, to bet against Clermont in Saturday's Heineken Cup quarter-final against Montpellier at Parc des Sports Michelin.
With an unbeaten record on home soil stretching back 58 consecutive games in all competitions, it's hard to imagine Clermont not coming out on top in their fifth Heineken Cup quarter-finals appearance.
With the winner of the this game set to host a semi-final in France at the Stade de la Mosson in Montpellier Clermont, who came through the pool phases unbeaten, are now the outstanding favourites for the title.
Montpellier have never made it this far but don't write off them off entirely without fully examining their credentials. They have a powerful scrum, explosive back row, and a superb fly-half. They have won their last five matches in this competition.
These sides have faced each other twice already this season: Montpellier won 13-8 at home in the Top 14 back in August while Clermont were 36 – 18 victors in the return game at this venue in January
The last time Montpellier visited Volcano Country for a European fixture was back in 1997 when the hosts won 56 – 10.
Clermont are the top-metre makers in the Heineken Cup this season. On average they racked up 546 metres per game in the pool stage, a total of 3,274 metres.
Yet, Clermont coach Vern Cotter is taking nothing for granted. If the brilliant Georgian Mamuka Gorgodze starts getting the ball in his hands and running, Fulgence Ouedraogo gets amongst the home three-quarters and Francois Trinh Duc is able to control the game against his inexperienced opposite number then Montpellier are in with a shout.
Clermont have been forced to name Ludovic Radoslavjevic at fly-half in the absence of the injured Brock James. Radoslavjevic started at ten in last week's 66-21 demolition of Agen and the team is largely unchanged though former All Black Sitiveni Sivivatu returns on the wing.
Gorgodze has been shifted to the second row for Montpellier where he joined former Clermont lock Thibaut Privat.
“Despite this being an all-French encounter, it will be a whole new ball-game for both teams,” said Clermont lock Nathan Hines.
“It will be nothing like playing in the Top14 championship because it is all or nothing – lose and you are gone. “We still feel the pain of losing to Leinster in last year's semi-final and we don't want to feel so low again.
“Montpellier have emerged as a very powerful young team who are very aggressive up front. They have a lot of physicality – and even their bigger guys like Johnnie can chuck the ball around.
“We don't regard ourselves as favourites. I reckon it is more like a 50-50 situation.
Players to watch:
For Clermont: Is there a better inside centre in Europe than Wesley Fofana.? We don't think so. Morgan Parra, the tournament's top points-scorer with 90 so far, has also contributed towards another 20 of his side's points with four try assists – a joint-high in the Heineken Cup.
For Montpellier: Look no further than Mamuka Gorgodze, who hits like a freight train and has been in outstanding form all season.
Head-to-head: French international Fulgence Ouedraogo's contribution will be vital to Montpellier's chances. His opposite number Gerhard Vosloo has been n the fringes of the French national team for a while and loves to carry the ball, making for a interesting tussle.
Clermont won 36 – 18 in Clermont-Ferrand (Top 14)
Montpellier won 13-8 in Montpellier (Top 14)
Prediction: We're not brave enough to consider any result other than a home win. Clermont by ten points.
Clermont: 15 Lee Byrne, 14 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 13 AurÃ©lien Rougerie, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Napolioni Nalaga, 10 Ludovic Radoslavjevic , 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Julien Bonnaire, 7 Julien Bardy, 6 Gerhard Vosloo, 5 Nathan Hines, 4 Jamie Cudmore, 3 Davit Zirakashvili, 2 Benjamin Kayser, 1 Thomas Domingo.
Replacements: 16 Ti'i Paulo, 17 Vincent Debaty, 18 Daniel Kotze, 19 Julien Pierre, 20 Alexandre Lapandry, 21 David Skrela, 22 Regan King, 23 Jean-Marcel Buttin,
Montpellier: 15 Lucas Amorosino, 14 Timoci Nagusa, 13 Thomas Combezou, 12 Santiago Fernandez, 11 Yohann Artru, 10 Francois Trinh-Duc, 9 Benoit Paillaugue, 8 Alex Tulou, 7 Alexandre Bias, 6 Fulgence Ouedraogo, 5 Thibaut Privat, 4 Mamuka Gorgodze, 3 Maximiliano Bustos, 2 Agustin Creevy, 1 Yvan Watremez.
Replacements: 16 Rassie van Vuuren, 17 Nahuel Lobo, 18 Barry Fa'amausili, 19 Mickael Demarco, 20 Johnnie Beattie, 21 Eric Escande, 22 Paul Bosch, 23 Pierre BÃ©rard,
Date: Saturday, 6 April
Venue: Parc des Sports Michelin, Clermont-Ferrand
Kick-off: 16:40 local (14.40 GMT)
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: JP Doyle (England); Stuart Terheege (England)