Clermont Auvergne and Toulon shared a 26-26 draw a fortnight ago, and could well share the fourth all-French final in 18 years of Heineken Cup competition after this weekend’s semi-final action.
France have traditionally been the strongest nation in the Heineken Cup, with only two other finals seeing clashes between teams from the same country (2006/07 England, 2012/13 Ireland). Of the 34 sides to reach the final, 14 have come from France, with 10 from England and nine from Ireland.
Neither of these sides has ever been in the final, but they do currently occupy the top two spots in the Top 14; 11/10 for a Gallic final in Dublin should find much support.
The financial clout of French clubs – a result of their potential to be maximised by the lack of a salary-cap – has seen Clermont and Toulon, amongst others, assemble some of most star-studded line-ups in European rugby.
While not exactly penniless themselves, Sarries were outclassed in all aspects of the game in last season’s quarter final defeat to Clermont, going down 3-22 at Vicarage Road.
The Saracens-Toulon semi-final at Twickenham appears finely balanced, as emphasised by the odds of 10/11 for either side to progress. Should Sarries prevail, the odds of a final with tournament favourites Clermont also stand at 11/10.
Two of the last four finals have seen an Irish side take on English opposition, an outcome that can be backed at 11/1 this time around. However owing to Munster’s domestic form, a win over a Clermont side that has won every European match this term seems far-fetched. Their chances of a causing an upset have been further diminished by injuries to Doug Howlett and Donncha O’Callaghan.
With Munster flagging in the RaboDirect PRO12, and Saracens unproven at this stage of the competition having lost on their sole semi-final appearance in 2009, odds of 1/4 for a French winner should find plenty of support.
Clermont are 4/6 favourites to lift the Cup in Dublin, while Toulon can be taken at 7/2.
Saracens are 4/1 to provide an English champion – which hasn’t happened for five seasons now – and represent the biggest chance of upsetting a French duopoly, which would be some achievement in itself; denying a French winner would be nothing short of sensational.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing