Preview: Saracens v Clermont

Date published: October 17 2014

Six months on from the massacre at Twickenham, it’s still hard to believe just how comprehensively Saracens took Clermont apart.

Six months on from the massacre at Twickenham, it’s still hard to believe just how comprehensively Saracens took Clermont apart.

It had been billed as a war, a titanic battle between two sides who thrive off forward power with finishers out wide who don’t let chances go amiss.

Yet from the moment Nigel Owens awarded a contentious penalty try Clermont were all over the place, lacking the composure to gradually work their way back into a game that had so much time remaining even with the score at 14-3.

They just never got a grip on the contest. Saracens were sharp too, in the end scoring six tries in a rousing performance that was always going to be hard to match when they travelled to Cardiff to face Toulon.

The manner of such a large loss is bound to leave a scar on Clermont, but if anything it will give them extra motivation when they travel to Allianz Park.

Saracens playing on their home ground rather than moving the contest to Wembley or Twickenham is a good thing, given we may get a modicum of atmosphere after last season’s cacophonous semi-final at Twickenham.

Both have started their domestic campaigns well, Saracens tucked in behind Northampton at the top of the Premiership while Clermont lead the Top 14.

There’s a grudge to be settled and the forward battle itself will be titanic. Clermont will look to their head-to-head record against Saracens, three wins out of four, for some confidence.

The arrival of Franck Azema and Jono Gibbes after the Vern Cotter era seems to have refreshed les Jaunards considerably.

In the end it may just come down to how Charlie Hodgson and Camille Lopez are striking the ball off the tee.

In team news, Clermont have made seven changes to the side that struggled to beat La Rochelle last week.

French international centre Wesley Fofana returns to the midfield as the expense of Jonathan Davies, who is not in the matchday 23.

Ludovic Radosavljevic is at scrum-half in the absence of the injured Morgan Parra while Nick Abendanon is at full-back instead of Jean-Marcellin Buttin.

Julien Bonnaire starts ahead of Julien Bardy in the loose trio and Jamie Cudmore takes over from Julien Pierre in the second row. Props Davit Zirakashvili and Thomas Domingo are added to the front row.

Saracens look a little fragile in the front row. Petrus Du Plessis replaces Kieran Longbottom at tighthead prop, and will pack down alongside Jamie George (hooker) and Richard Barrington (loosehead).

Alistair Hargreaves captains Saracens and is joined by George Kruis in the second row as Jim Hamilton drops to the bench.

Will Fraser returns to the side after a hamstring injury at openside flanker instead of Ernst Joubert.

In the back three, Alex Goode returns to side at full-back.

Form: Clermont have three of their last four European matches with Saracens, although their last encounter was a record 46-6 loss at Twickenham. No team averaged more points or tries than Saracens in last year’s competition. Saracens went on to reach last year’s final, where they were defeated by Toulon.

The teams:

For Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Chris Wyles, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 David Strettle, 10 Charlie Hodgson, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Billy Vunipola 7 Will Fraser, 6 Kelly Brown, 5 Alistair Hargreaves (c), 4 George Kruis, 3 Petrus du Plessis, 2 Jamie George, 1 Richard Barrington
Replacements: 16 Schalk Brits, 17 Rhys Gill, 18 James Johnston, 19 Jim Hamilton, 20 Jackson Wray, 21 Neil de Kock, 22 Owen Farrell, 23 Marcelo Bosch

For Clermont: 15 Nick Abendanon, 14 Noa Nakaitaci, 13 Aur