It is that time of the week again when 'Orrible Punt sits in the Planet Rugby hot-seat to reveal his calls. Get ready for the 2013 Heineken Cup Final.
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Clermont vs Toulon
Despite Mourad Boudjellal's best attempts to characterise Clermont as a monster and an unstoppable steamroller on course for glory, there's an absence of a real underdog in this clash. Think Goliath against Goliath instead. Separated by one point at the summit of the Top 14, Clermont won 19 of their 26 league matches by a rate of 30-16, while their opponents were victorious in 18 games by 30-18. On that basis, the outright value lies with Toulon at 2.67 rather than the 1.57 around for Clermont.
Both sides have put together some impressive stats in this competition with Clermont averaging 142 passes a game, along with 123 carries for 521 metres, 21 defenders beaten, nine clean breaks, nineteen offloads, 103 tackles (thirteen missed) and 78 rucks won (three lost). They've won their eight games so far by a rate of 33-11. Toulon have won seven by 27-15 and also averaged 142 passes, with 114 carries for 422 metres, seventeen defenders beaten, ten clean breaks, fourteen offloads, 81 tackles (ten missed) and 74 rucks won.
The Vulcans have won thirteen of their previous sixteen Heineken Cup games by a rate of 32-11 and led at half-time in fourteen of them. They've won six of the last ten meetings with Toulon by a 23-18 and led at the break in seven of them. It's also worth noting that seven of those clashes were decided by a margin of seven points or less. Looking at Toulon's last seven knockout games - in the 2012 Amlin Cup semi-final, final, the Top 14 play-off, semi-final and final and this season's Heineken Cup contests, they have only scored the two tries and conceded three. They've gone 258 minutes without a try in the competition and only scored 2/23 tries away from home. It certainly looks wise to back 'no try' for them at Aviva Stadium. Toulon have also trailed at half-time in their last three European games.
Like two heavyweight boxers with glass jaws, these teams manage to mix great power with a sense of fragility, with both having form for losing finals and falling just short. Clermont finally found a way to dispatch old rivals Leinster this year which would have given hope that finally this was to be their season in the Heineken Cup - but the clash with Munster perhaps revealed a weakness. Without centre AurÃ©lien Rougerie and flanker Gerhard Vosloo to make the offloads, too often they opted for the direct option and only scored three points in 63 minutes having started so strongly. A similar approach in this contest would play into Toulon's hands. They have assembled a huge forward pack and their game plan is pretty clear. Consider that Saracens complained that they just wanted to "kick the ball rather than play the ball" and felt the attacking team was penalised too often and you get the idea.
If the scores are close late on, then Toulon will be favoured by many to edge it, with the media-friendly ending being a winning Jonny drop-goal. Indeed, when French sides reach knockout games, there are a collection of bets that prove popular - drop goal, yellow card, and 'no try' amongst them. I can see merit in backing Clermont half-time / Toulon full-time at 9.0 with Paddy Power based on that idea that Les Jaunards may start quickly before succumbing to their demons and that bet will act as a 'saver'. However my play will be on Clermont to win by a margin of 1-12 points at 2.3. They are one of the few sides able to match Bernand Laporte's team for muscle but also possess a backline that need just the merest glimpse of an opening or turnover to pounce. The chances that Saracens failed to capitalise on against Toulon will be taken by the more precise Vulcans and 4.0 for Wesley Fofana to score is tempting, even allowing for the predicted rain. Clermont have entertained all season and I see their commitment to playing rugby the right way being rewarded.