The game looks well and truly up for Saracens and Leinster in the first European Rugby Champions Cup semi-finals, with French superpowers Clermont Auvergne and Toulon holding a distinct advantage over their Anglo/Irish rivals this weekend.
It may not quite amount to home advantage, but the former take on Sarries in Saint-Etienne, 90 minutes drive south-east of their Clermont-Ferrand headquarters, while Toulon travel just 40 miles west along the Mediterranean coast to Marseille to meet Matt O’Connor’s side.
No doubt Clermont would have preferred their Parc des Sports Marcel-Michelin fortress up the road, despite suffering a rare one-point home loss to Top 14 play-off hopefuls Oyonnax last time out, but Saracens’ form away from Allianz Park this season suggests it won’t matter.
Mark McCall’s men have won just four of their 10 away matches in the Champions Cup and Aviva Premiership this term, with two of those victories by two points or less.
They sprang a shock when beating Racing Metro 11-10 on the road in the last round, but repeating the feat against a side that won 18-6 when these two clashed in France just three months ago looks too tough a task. Back Clermont to clear a 6.5 point handicap at 4/5.
As for the other match, three-time champions of Europe Leinster have plenty of experience to draw on at Stade Velodrome, having beaten Clermont 19-5 at this stage of the Heineken Cup three years ago in Bordeaux.
Such is Toulon’s strength, ‘the Real Madrid of Rugby’ in the words of Leinster coach O’Connor, that the Irish province can be backed at 10/11 to win with a whopping 10.5 point handicap.
They don’t take too many thrashings and have the likes of Sean O’Brien, Cian Healey, Sean Cronin, Rob Kearney and Ian Madigan bouncing after Ireland’s successful Six Nations defence.
It probably won’t be enough to halt the French sides’ relentless march to a third European coronation in succession, but they should keep it highly respectable.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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