Saracens v Clermont: Twickenham will experience an absolute cracker, says Jonathan Davies
Jon Davies says Clermont Auvergne have the perfect game plan that allows them to adapt to every possibility.
Last Updated: 25/04/14 3:33pm
There has been a lot of talk about the last time these two sides met in 2012 when Clermont blew Sarries away, but Saracens have really moved on from that 22-3 defeat. Those young players who experienced that loss, like Owen Farrell and Mako Vunipola, who was on the bench that day, have more experience of big, important games and I don't see them being turned over as easily as they were in 2012.
I think the Vunipola brothers especially can cause Clermont some serious problems with their carrying abilities. Billy has been especially destructive this year but he also has those subtle touches that make him so dangerous. His decision making as to when to offload and when to hold onto the ball is very good - he does not force the issue and really keeps the defense on their toes. The Sarries backrow of Billy, Kelly Brown and Jacques Burger are going to have a huge battle with Julien Bonnaire, Damien Chouly and Fritz Lee.
That battle is going to be key but I am also looking forward to seeing the centre battle. Clermont will be without captain Aurelien Rougerie, who will be a huge loss, but Benson Stanley is a great player and will partner Wesley Fofana very well. What else is there to say about Fofana? He is just a wonderful player to watch, so well balanced with great footwork and a real turn of pace. His vision and ability to read the game is superb too and their encounter with Marcelo Bosch and Brad Barritt should be very good.
Scrum-half is a big one - Saracens have gone for Neil de Kok with Richard Wigglesworth on the bench. With over 200 appearances for Saracens, de Kock has plenty of experience and I think he gives them a bit more accuracy in his field position kicking; Saracens know that they have to be spot on in that department.
If Clermont can get their back three into the game - Lee Byrne, Sitiveni Sivivatu and Naipolioni Nalaga then I think they will have a bit too much firepower for Saracens. They are just such a dangerous threat and Saracens will have to be on song to stop them. Preparing to play against players with individual brilliance is tough. You have to approach it from a team perspective and make sure you are collectively all on the same page. If you kick to the back three then instinctively you have to have a solid line chasing that kick down to give them less time and less space to react. They cannot give players like Sivivatu and Nalaga opportunities - so no mis-matches. The Saracens wolf pack is going to have to work doubly hard to make sure these players are not given the chance to show how good they are.
The atmosphere will be amazing and it will be interesting to see how Clermont handle the pressure of Twickenham. Brock James always gets mentioned as someone who may be susceptible to pressure in the big games but he handled the final pretty well last year and I don't see that being a problem for him at all. Saracens will obviously be looking to take down his space and come off the line very hard to pressure him. But he's a class player with plenty of experience. Even if he does have a bad day there are so many quality players in the side to take the pressure off him.
The weight of expectation is once again on Clermont but I think they wear that favourites tag very well. They have so many different types of game plans to match all situations - that big forward pack who can set a platform and trundle on forward with the driving maul. Then they have the backs who can shift it wide and play some wonderful running rugby. They have developed many strings to their bow and can adapt to all conditions and all occasions. I expect Clermont to do very well - and next year as well, of course!