Preview: Top 14 Final

Date published: June 12 2015

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Clermont face a rematch of arguably their most painful French final loss as they take on Stade Français in Paris on Saturday.

While it's difficult, not to mention a little cruel, to rank their ten domestic defeats, it's fair to say that Stade's success eight years ago is about as tough a loss as they come.

In Vern Cotter's first season in charge, les Jaunards led for virtually the entire game only for Radike Samo's try three minutes from time to break their hearts.

Since then Clermont have lost two more Top 14 finals, as well as a couple in Europe, but they finally broke their duck with a first Bouclier de Brennus in 2010.

They haven't returned to the final since, but that's nothing like Stade's absence from the biggest stage.

The Parisian side rivalled Toulouse as the most successful club in France at the turn of the Millennium, but are making their first appearance in the play-offs in six seasons.

The pressure hasn't told at all so far though, as they've brushed aside both city rivals Racing 92 and then defending champions Toulon.

Gonzalo Quesada's team combine a solid spine and dominant scrum with some exciting outside backs, and so far they've been the standout team in the play-offs.

Clermont found it harder in their semi-final, needing a couple of late kicks from Brock James to squeak past Toulouse, and the Australian is set to be one of three survivors from the team that lost back in 2007.

Joining him will be Aurélien Rougerie, moving back into the centres as Clermont look to cope with a disastrous injury list.

Winger Noa Nakaitaci injured his knee last weekend, while Wesley Fofana has now been ruled out after picking up a knock in training, leaving les Jaunards very short of options in the backline.

That means Rougerie will link up with Benson Stanley in midfield but Fofana and Nakaitaci represent their two greatest attacking threats and will be sorely missed.

Stade, of course, have their own injury-enforced absentees, Jules Plisson and Hugo Bonneval are two of the faces of their recent regeneration but both are on the sidelines.

The financial struggles of the club have certainly allowed a new generation to come through, and one of those, Antoine Burban, showed last week why he is so highly-rated and perhaps unfortunate not to be part of France's World Cup squad.

The scrum should make for an interesting battle on Saturday. No team has managed to gain parity with Stade in that area so far, but Clermont are the least penalised scrummaging side in the league.

Elsewhere the back-row battle ought to be a cracker with Sergio Parisse and Burban in fine form for Stade, while Fritz Lee is often the heartbeat of the Clermont team.

The teams split the two regular season meetings, with a weakened Stade side hammered at the Marcel Michelin, while Clermont also rested a number of players in their big loss at Jean Bouin.

It's hard to read much into either result however, so recent form is a better indicator, and combined with the injuries, Stade look like the team to beat.

Ones to watch: A lot has been made of the lack of French second-rows coming through in the Top 14, but this final will see three locks under the age of 26 starting. While Sébastien Vahaamahina and Alexandre Flanquart are both part of the French squad, Paul Jedrasiak is a little newer to the bigger stage. The former France U20s captain has come from nowhere to establish himself as a starter in the absence of Jamie Cudmore. He's a physical presence and has an incredible work-rate, making tackle after tackle and regularly disrupting play.

For Stade, Jonathan Danty was desperately close to making France's World Cup squad, with only his lack of experience counting against him. He will have to wait until next year, but the combination of Danty and Waisea in midfield can be devastating, and while Clermont won't be short of experience in midfield, the absence of Fofana and Jonathan Davies means they will have less cohesion than usual. The Franco-Fijian combination could cause a lot of problems.

Prediction: In the last two rounds we've picked Stade to lose narrowly and on both occasions they've emerged comfortable winners. Without wishing to jinx them, this time around we think they probably have the edge, both in terms of form, and because of Clermont's backline absentees. So we'll go for a repeat of 2007 with the Parisians edging a tight one. Stade Français by 5!

The teams:

Clermont: 15 Nick Abendanon, 14 Napolioni Nalaga, 13 Aurélien Rougerie, 12 Benson Stanley, 11 Jean-Marcellin Buttin, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Julien Bardy, 6 Damien Chouly (c), 5 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 4 Paul Jedrasiak, 3 Davit Zirakashvili, 2 John Ulugia, 1 Thomas Domingo
Replacements: 16 Benjamin Kayser, 17 Raphaël Chaume, 18 Julien Pierre, 19 Alexandre Lapandry, 20 Ludovic Radosavljevic, 21 Brock James, 22 Mike Delany, 23 Clément Ric

Stade Français: 15 Djibril Camara, 14 Julien Arias, 13 Waisea Nayacalevu, 12 Jonathan Danty, 11 Jérémy Sinzelle, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Julien Dupuy, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Raphaël Lakafia, 6 Antoine Burban, 5 Alexandre Flanquart, 4 Hugh Pyle, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Rémi Bonfils, 1 Heinke van der Merwe
Replacements: 16 Laurent Sempéré, 17 Zak Taulafo, 18 Pascal Papé, 19 Jono Ross, 20 Jérôme Fillol, 21 Meyer Bosman, 22 Geoffrey Doumayrou, 23 Davit Kubriashvili

Date: Saturday, 13 June
Venue: Stade de France, Paris
Kick-off: 21:00 local (19:00 GMT)
Referee: Pascal Gauzère
Assistant referees: Jérôme Garcès, Salim Attalah

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