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Clermont v Edinburgh - Teams and Prediction

PREVIEW: Clermont Auvergne’s clash with Edinburgh kicks off the Challenge Cup at the Stade Marcel-Michelin in Clermont-Ferrand – a match between two clubs with realistic title aspirations.

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Edinburgh couldn’t have wished for a harder start to their bid for EPCR Challenge Cup glory than a Pool 3 trip to three-time winners Clermont Auvergne on Friday night in the competition’s opening game to the 2023-24 campaign.

The Top 14 side have the joint best record in the competition with Harlequins, having won the trophy in 1999, 2007 and 2019, and last season they reached the quarterfinals before losing a thriller 32-30 at Scarlets.

However, Edinburgh, who were losing finalists in 2015, have made an impressive start to their United Rugby Championship season, currently lying fifth with five wins from seven games.

Edinburgh coach Sean Everett talked about the mood in the camp heading into Round One of the Challenge Cup.

“Yes, we are in a good place. The team was unfortunate to lose against Benetton, so it was important for us to bounce back. It just shows the character of the group and where they want to be.

“To win at Kingspan is never an easy task, so I’m proud of how the guys stuck to the task. I know we made it difficult towards the end – for me it was just almost like panic set in and maybe a bit of deja vu after losing the last three encounters against them at the death.

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“The guys are relieved and I’m just happy for them to have got the result.”

With the focus now switching into Europe after a promising start to the URC, Everett said: “I’m trying to get the guys to work together in what we’re trying to achieve in the long term. I do understand it’s an important competition.

“It’s also important for us to finish in the top eight in the URC – that’s our goal, because it allows us to get into the Champions Cup. And that will also remain our goal.

“In saying that, we’ve got a good enough team to challenge for the European Challenge Cup. We see all competitions as important.”

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Everett made the decision to rest his international players for this series.

“It’s the guys who have been playing regularly for us, guys like Jamie Ritchie, Pierre Schoeman, WP Nel and a guy like Grant [Gilchrist] who we feel we can give another week’s rest.

“He’s been carrying quite a big load at the start of the URC due to injuries to Sam [Skinner] and we’re happy with the performance of the locks who played against Ulster on Saturday and I think they deserve another crack.

“I’m not going to give away any secrets but if you look at the loose trio we have, you’ve still got the likes of Luke Crosbie, Hamish Watson, Bill Mata, Ben Muncaster and Connor Boyle to choose from and they’ve done really well in the Edinburgh jersey this season.”

Leading their challenge has been Irish-born Scotland flyhalf Ben Healy, who is the URC’s leading points-scorer to date with 76 thanks to a goal-kicking success rate of 82.9%.

He has backed up Edinburgh’s open style, which has seen giant Scotland wing Duhan van der Merwe and versatile back Wes Goosen each beat a competition-high 22 defenders this term.

(Continue below…)

Clermont Auvergne have not enjoyed quite such a good start to their domestic season. They stand joint sixth after five wins and four defeats.

“Europe allows us to escape the routine of the championship,” says prop Etienne Falgoux.

“It’s always enriching to come up against teams like that of Edinburgh that we don’t know. Looking at them, it reminds us of that of Racing with a big defence and an ability to play a lot.

“It’s true that the resemblance with Racing is interesting,” agrees Christophe Urios.

“Edinburgh sets a lot of pace, passes a lot, has big and strong ‘poison’ players in their rucks. We are heading towards a high-level match. This will allow us to see if we are making progress.

“It was important to know what we wanted to do with this competition” continues the coach. “We decided to give ourselves the means to play it. That’s what I told the players this morning.

“We chose to stick to the history between the club and Europe and on Friday we will see if we are there. The first lines of this season’s European history will be written on Friday evening on the Michelin lawn, the Yellow and Blue will be keen to see them in capitals,” he added.

Stade Marcel-Michelin is an imposing place to visit, though, so there couldn’t be a better way to start this season’s EPCR Challenge Cup.

Prediction
@rugby365com: Clermont Auvergne by three points

Teams:

Clermont Auvergne: 15 Alex Newsome, 14 Bautista Delguy, 13 Julien Heriteau, 12 George Moala, 11 Thomas Roziere, 10 Anthony Belleau, 9 Sebastien Bezy, 8 Pita-Gus Sowakula, 7 Peceli Yato, 6 Lucas Dessaigne, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Cristian Ojovan, 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 Etienne Falgoux,
Replacements: 16 Yohan Beheregaray, 17 Daniel Bibi Biziwu, 18 Henzo Kiteau, 19 Fritz Lee, 20 Killian Tixeront, 21 Baptiste Jauneau, 22 Jules Plisson, 23 Pierre Fouyssac,

Edinburgh: 15 Tim Swiel, 14 Harry Paterson, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Chris Dean, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Cameron Scott, 9 Ben Vellacott, 8 Bill Mata, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Luke Crosbie, 5 Jamie Hodgson, 4 Marshall Sykes, 3 Javan Sebastian, 2 Ewan Ashman, 1 Robin Hislop
Replacements: 16 Adam McBurney, 17 Boan Venter, 18 Angus Williams, 19 Glen Young, 20 Connor Boyle, 21 Charlie Shiel, 22 Matt Currie, 23 Wes Goosen

Date: Friday, December 8
Venue: Stade Marcel-Michelin
Kick-off: 22.00 (20.00 GMT, 21.00 in France)
Referee: Ben Whitehouse
Assistant referees: Joy Neville, Padraic Reidy
TMO: Brian MacNeice

Additional source @EPCR

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