After a heavy defeat last weekend in Montferrand, Leicester return to the sanctuary of Welford Road looking to bruise, intimidate, and hope that old adage about French teams not travelling well is actually true.
Venue: Welford Road, Leicester
Referee: Nigel Owens
Cut down by a double sin-binning in the 49th minute of last weekend’s game, Leicester came away from Clermont knowing that another loss this weekend would leave their Heineken Cup chances on a knife edge. Furthermore, if they didn’t know much about Wesley Fofana before last weekend, they certainly did after he barged over for a brace of tries in the second half. Including last weekend, Leicester had won four of their last five matches, and look to be getting back to their best with the return of Billy Twelvetrees and Manu Tuilagi.
Losing to Ulster in the first round has really hurt Clermont’s chances of progressing to the next round, but if they can subdue the Welford faithful tomorrow then they be finely placed once more to progress. Now with the Top 14 monkey finally off their back after defeating Perpignan in 2010 at the 11th attempt, Alex King, the former Wasps fly-half who coaches at the club, has said that their focus is now on European success. They sit second in the Top 14, and have won 12 out of 16 matches this season in all competitions.
What to expect:
Leicester’s traditional forward dominance to be matched. Last week’s game was gritty and punishing, and although Clermont lost Lionel Faure before kick-off and struggled in the lineout, Leicester could not finish them off, their indiscipline and lack of composure killing them at crucial moments. Such is the pressure on opposing sides in the French heartland, but back at home in more comfortable surroundings, they should really control this one. Richard Cockerill will have drilled his side all week over their poor execution, and if the small errors from last week are tweaked, then a win is more than possible.
Clermont enjoyed some dominance in the breakdown last weekend at home, despite having Julian Bonnaire sin-binned for a ruck offence, and they must produce that same level of intensity and execution to get a result here. Set to be without their talisman Aurélien Rougerie, Regan King and Fofana will be in charge of the midfield, whilst Faure’s return in the front row should even up the scrum. They have international talent everywhere in Lee Byrne, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Nathan Hines and Morgan Parra.
Head to Head: Julian Salvi v Alexandre Lapandry
Former Bath and Brumbies flanker Salvi seems to have settled in very well with the Tigers, playing some of his best rugby at 7 alongside Tom Croft and Thomas Waldrom. He will need to be superior at the breakdown to prevent the problems Leicester faced last weekend in terms of penalties. Meanwhile, Lapandry is very highly rated across the channel by French pundits. Just 22, he was part of the championship winning side back in 2010, and also was involved with the French squad when they won the Grand Slam in the same year. Set to be involved in the Six Nations, where better to show Phillipe Saint-André that you can handle the pressure than Welford Road?
One to Watch: Horacio Agulla & Wesley Fofana
Playing his best rugby for the Tigers since he joined the club, Agulla scored the all important try against Northampton Saints a fortnight ago and may well have to produce another one or two crucial scores to win this one. One of the Premiership’s most improved players. Fofana on the other hand is very much the new French centre on the block. The 23 year old is being touted for a Six Nations starting spot alongside club captain Rougerie.
Given how rarely Leicester lose at home, it would seem wrong to back a visiting side, let alone a French one. But the way Clermont performed last weekend despite being on the back foot in the set-piece, plus the confidence they will have gained from last week’s victory, gives them the edge. Clermont by 4.
by Ben Coles