Preview: Clermont v Sale

Date published: October 24 2014

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It’s been six years since Clermont Auvergne lost a home game in Europe, and Sale were the team to do it on that occasion.

It’s been six years since Clermont Auvergne lost a home game in Europe, and Sale were the team to do it on that occasion.

Spearheaded by the playmaking duo of Charlie Hodgson and Luke McAlister (even if Hodgson started on the bench), the Sharks were sensational at Marcel Michelin in a 32-15 win.

A repeat performance on Sunday would be an even greater surprise, with both sides already in must-win territory.

For Sale, that comes after last week’s heartbreaking 27-26 loss at home to Munster, when they somehow failed to close out a game they were leading 19-3 at half-time.

Clermont were equally wasteful, dominating large periods of their clash with Saracens but failing to find the cutting edge and eventually having to settle for a losing bonus point in a 30-23 defeat.

A major problem for Sale is the absence of three leaders, skipper Dan Braid, record try-scorer Mark Cueto and former Clermont lock Nathan Hines.

It’s particularly tough on Hines, who enjoyed three very impressive seasons with Les Jaunards, but will have to wait for the return fixture to catch up with his former teammates.

“Unfortunately we’ve got a lot of injuries,” said Hines.

“Dan Braid, Mark Cueto and I haven’t played yet this season and we could have offered some experience. Even if Sale have a lot of good youngsters, the leaders aren’t there alongside them.”

Clermont have no such problems given the depth of their squad, and this weekend will see the return of Napolioni Nalaga and Jonathan Davies to the side.

Both were left out for the trip to Sarries, with Davies admitting he has not yet found his best form since an off-season move, while the Fijian winger is still stuck on one try for the season.

That could all change at the weekend when Clermont know they probably need a bonus-point win to keep the pressure on top two Munster and Saracens who face off at Thomond Park on Friday night before a double-header against the Irish side in December.

Their recent form has not been outstanding, with two losses in their last three games, with a laboured win over La Rochelle sandwiched in between, and as coach Franck Az

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