Preview: Clermont v Toulouse

Date published: June 5 2015

The Eternal Second against the Departing Legend, the second Top 14 semi-final isn't lacking for narratives when Clermont face Toulouse.

French cyclist Raymond Poulidor was originally known as the Eternal Second after eight times finishing on the podium of the Tour de France without ever wearing the hallowed yellow jersey.

This week he offered his support to Clermont, who at least ended their wait for a Bouclier de Brennus in 2010, but have since added to their ten lost French finals with a couple of European failures.

Two years ago their European disappointment was followed up by a limp defeat to Castres in the Top 14 semi-finals, but the advantage this year is they've had three weeks to forget about the loss at Twickenham.

Three wins out of three certainly indicates they've put it behind them, although the difficulty with which they beat Toulon's reserves at the Marcel Michelin showed that psychologically facing the defending champions is still an issue.

The other Rouge et Noir provide no such psychological barrier. Toulouse have won just one of their last five games against les Jaunards, and notably lost at home this season against a weakened Clermont team, when Guy Novès told his team to take three points at the death for a losing bonus point rather than chase a draw.

Given Clermont's defence at the time, and since, that was probably the right call, and Toulouse will have to find a way of breaking them down this weekend.

Toulon managed it in the Champions Cup final thanks one moment of magic from Drew Mitchell, but it's their first try that gives more reason for optimism as they were able combine powerful carrying with quick ball to eventually send Mathieu Bastareaud over.

Toulouse aren't lacking for carriers, with their pair of number eights Louis Picamoles and Gillian Galan, as well as Joe Tekori and Yann David, and as they showed in the barrage, they can hold the ball for long periods of time.

The problem is, during their one-point success over Oyonnax, they relied on their greater depth on the bench, an advantage they won't have against Clermont.

The scrum is also a major question mark, as it has been all season, even if the availability of Census Johnston after suspension will come as a relief.

The tighthead side has been a major problem all year, and against Clermont they will take on French international duo Thomas Domingo and Vincent Debaty, as strong a one-two punch as there is in the league.

If Toulouse can hold up there, they have a slim chance, but Clermont seem to match up well against their strengths while being able to punish their weaknesses.

Toulouse will be desperate to give Novès one final trophy as he comes to the end of a 22-year reign in charge of the club which has brought unprecedented success. Will that be enough though?

Ones to watch: Aurélien Rougerie was one of the form centres in Europe before suffering an elbow injury in January. That saw him on the sidelines for two months while Jonathan Davies was able to leapfrog him in the pecking order. With Davies now out long-term with a torn ACL, Rougerie will have his chance once more. He's got form against Toulouse in the Top 14 semis, all the way back in 2007 it was his stunning solo try that proved decisive in Marseille.

For Toulouse it's hard to look past Census Johnston as the key man. While youngster Dorian Aldegheri came on and did a good job in the second half against Oyonnax, Toulouse will need a peak Johnston to stand a chance. He's no longer the dominant force he was before the scrum law changes, but if Johnston can hold up in the set-piece, it will give Toulouse a shot.

Prediction: While most of the English-speaking press has written off Guy Novès as being past it, Toulouse won as many games as Clermont and Toulon in the regular season. The problem is they really don't match up well with Clermont, who remain extremely tough to break down defensively, as well as being strong up front.

With that in mind, we think they should have enough to end Novès' long reign a week earlier than planned. Clermont by 6!

The teams:

Clermont: 15 Nick Abendanon, 14 Aurélien Rougerie, 13 Benson Stanley, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Noa Nakaitaci, 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 Jean-Marcellin Buttin, 23 Clément Ric

Toulouse: 15 Maxime Médard, 14 Vincent Clerc, 13 Yann David, 12 Luke McAlister, 11 Yoann Huget, 10 Jean-Marc Doussain, 9 Sébastien Bézy, 8 Gillian Galan, 7 Yannick Nyanga, 6 Thierry Dusautoir (c), 5 Patricio Albacete, 4 Joe Tekori, 3 Census Johnston, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Gurthö Steenkamp
Replacements: 16 Cyril Baille, 17 Julien Marchand, 18 Yoann Maestri, 19 Louis Picamoles, 20 Toby Flood, 21 Florian Fritz, 22 Timoci Matanavou, 23 Dorian Aldegheri

Date: Saturday, 6 June
Venue: Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux, Bordeaux
Kick-off: 16:15 local (14:15 GMT)
Referee: Alexandre Ruiz
Assistant Referees: Maxime Chalon, Cyril Lafon