PREVIEW: ASM Clermont Auvergne v La Rochelle
CHALLENGE CUP SPOTLIGHT: ASM Clermont Auvergne reached their fourth final – and now have the opportunity to lift the title for a third time when they take on first-time finalist La Rochelle on Friday.
Clermont equaled Ospreys’ 2016-17 pool stage record of 30 points from six matches, they defeated Northampton Saints 61-38 in the quarter-finals and Harlequins 32-27 in the semi-finals to qualify for a meeting at Newcastle’s St. James’ Park on Friday.
“Right from the start [of the season] together we have respected this competition,” ASM Clermont Auvergne director of rugby Franck Azéma insisted. “Everyone has done their job.
“The story of this European campaign is that we have been on a journey that now allows us to have the right to contest this final. We want to win it and we have the hunger to achieve a record. We know that there is this opportunity there now.”
Flank Alexandre Lapandry acknowledged that Clermont will be regarded as favourites to win, since they are two places and 16 points ahead of La Rochelle in the TOP 14, as well as having many players who have experienced the big stage.
However, he pointed out: “Experience is knowing that one can be favourites and first all season without it being certain. We are assuming the status, but don’t count on us lacking humility or determination.”
La Rochelle face a Clermont team who are 16 points ahead of them in the TOP 14 and packed with internationals.
However, co-captain Romain Sazy has promised that the French club will “give everything” as they bid to mark the first European final in their history by winning the Challenge Cup.
The underdogs made the final by topping Pool 4 and then beating Bristol Bears 39-15 in the quarter-finals and Sale Sharks 24-20 in the semi-finals, the latter two at their Stade Marcel Deflandre ground.
“We have done everything to reach the final – this is now a bonus,” said Sazy, who has featured in seven of La Rochelle’s eight Challenge Cup ties this season.
“We understand the magnitude of the event. We will be supported by Rochelais fans in Newcastle, at Deflandre and by all those in front of their televisions. We will give everything to bring back something for them.”
Director of rugby Jon Gibbes labelled the final “a fabulous opportunity to represent the club, the fans and the town”, while centre Geoffrey Doumayrou wants La Rochelle “to show what we can do”.
The French international added: “We have nothing to lose. We must not be nervous. The match is going to be much harder than usual, so we will need to be even more accurate and even more disciplined.”
👊 Two scrum-half with very different styles collide on Friday eve 👊
The tactically astute @MorganParraOff who always brings precision and grace 🎼
Facing the energetic tempo and speed of of @tawerakb 💨
Who comes out on top? pic.twitter.com/w8CFORsXuj
— Challenge Cup (@ERChallengeCup) May 8, 2019
In terms of team news Clermont captain and scrumhalf Morgan Parra forms a halfback partnership with Camille Lopez, while wings Alivereti Raka and Damian Penaud also start. The Clermont front row features props Etienne Falgoux and Rabah Slimani as well as hooker Benjamin Kayser.
La Rochelle flyhalf Ihaia West will start at No.10, having racked up 53 points this season. His halfback partner is Tawera Kerr-Barlow, while Marc Andreu and Arthur Retiere make up the wing duo and Vincent Rattez starts at full-back. Lock Romain Sazy will captain the La Rochelle team alongside second-row partner Mathieu Tanguy.
ASM Clermont Auvergne: 15 Isaiah Toeava, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 George Moala, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Alivereti Raka, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Morgan Parra (captain), 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Alexandre Lapandry, 6 Arthur Iturria, 5 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 4 Sitaleki Timani, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Benjamin Kayser, 1 Etienne Falgoux.
Replacements: 16 John Ulugia, 17 Beka Kakabadze, 18 Davit Zirakashvili, 19 Paul Jedrasiak, 20 Peceli Yato, 21 Greig Laidlaw, 22 Tim Nanai-Williams, 23 Apisai Naqalevu.
La Rochelle: 15 Vincent Rattez, 14 Arthur Retiere, 13 Geoffrey Doumayrou, 12 Pierre Aguillon, 11 Marc Andreu, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Tawera Kerr Barlow, 8 Grégory Alldritt, 7 Kevin Gourdon, 6 Wiaan Liebenberg, 5 Mathieu Tanguy, 4 Romain Sazy (captain), 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Jean-Charles Orioli, 1 Dany Priso.
Replacements: 16 Pierre Bourgarit, 17 Vincent Pelo, 18 Arthur Joly, 19 Thomas Jolmes, 20 Zeno Kieft, 21 Alexi Bales, 22 Jérémy Sinzelle, 23 Botia Veivuke.
Date: Friday, May 10
Venue: St James’ Park, Newcastle
Kick-off: 19.45 (18.45 GMT, 20.45 France time)
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Luke Pearce (England), Matthew Carley (England)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)