Last year’s beaten semi-finalists Clermont Auvergne will host French rivals Montpellier in the first of four Heineken Cup quarter-finals this weekend, with the game kicking-off an explosive two days of action-packed rugby.
Clermont will still be hurting from their loss to eventual champions Leinster last season, although they beat the defending champions home and away and this year's group stages, knocking the Irish province out of the competition and into the Amlin Challenge Cup.
Sitting two points off Top 14 leaders Toulon, Clermont have been in good form as of late having won five of their last six games, and when you take in the fact that they haven't lost at home in 58 consecutive games, they look nailed on to progress to the semi-finals once again.
However, Montpellier have already beaten Toulon at home in this seasons group stages, and despite progressing as one of the best runner's up, they will still pose a formidable challenge in what is just their second outing in the premier European competition.
Having suffered one of their worst Six Nations campaigns for some time, the French will be desperate to restore some pride, and what better way to do it than the Heineken Cup. For Clermont, the man to watch will be centre Wesley Fofana. The difference was clear to see once Philippe Saint-Andre switched him from the wing to his rightful position, proving to be a constant threat in the loss to England, draw with Ireland and the lone victory over Scotland.
They showed their European pedigree in their final group game, defeating the Scarlets 29-0 on the back of putting 46 points past Exeter on two occasions. Should they triumph on Saturday, they will ironically host the winner of Harlequins v Munster in Montpellier in the semi-finals.
That potential home advantage will be the driving factor for a Montpellier side that won five of their six pool games, losing just their opening fixture against Toulon. Despite not having a star-filled squad quite like Clermont, they will look to fly-half Francois Trinh-Duc to kick them to victory, and with a Georgian International Mamuka 'Godzilla' Gorgodze starting in the second-row, they will be as physical as ever as they look to progress to the semi-finals for the first time in the club's history.
Scotland's back-row Johnnie Beattie looked to be returning to his best form towards the end of the Six Nations campaign, but he will only make an appearance from the bench as Alex Tulou is preferred.
Clermont will be without their points-machine Brock James, who is ruled out with a torn thigh muscle, so Ludovic Radosavljevic will deputise, with former France fly-half David Skrela on the bench.
Clermont Auvergne: Lee Byrne; Sitiveni Sivivatu, Aurelien Rougerie, Wesley Fofana, Napolioni Nalaga; Ludovic Radosavljevic, Morgan Parra; Thomas Domingo, Benjamin Kayser, Davit Zirakashvili; Jamie Cudmore, Nathan Hines; Gerhard Vosloo, Julien Bardy, Julien Bonnaire.
Replacements: Ti'l Paulo, Vincent Debaty, Daniel Kotze, Julien Pierre, Alexandre Lapandry, David Skrela, Regan King, Jean-Marcellin Buttin.
Montpellier: Lucas Amorosino; Timoci Nagusa, Thomas Combezou, Santiago Fernandez, Yohann Artru; Francois Trinh-Duc, Benoit Paillaugue; Yvan Watremez, Agustin Creevy, Maximiliano Bustos, Mamuka Gorgodze, Thibaut Privat, Fulgence Ouedraogo, Alexandre Bias, Alex Tulou.
Replacements: Rassie van Vuuren, Nahuel Lobo, Barry Fa'amausili, Mickael Demarco, Johnnie Beattie, Eric Escande, Paul Bosch, Pierre Berard.
- More about:
- Carnegie Challenge Cup
- Harlequins (rugby)
- Heineken Cup
- Mark Tucker
- Six Nations Rugby