Guinness PRO12 in Europe: Clermont’s danger men against Leinster

Paul Eddison

21 Apr 2017

When it comes to European rivalries, the blue of Leinster against the yellow of Clermont has been a staple of the continent’s top competition.

This Sunday Leinster travel to Lyon to face a Clermont side who they have faced more than any other in the competition, this will be the ninth meeting between the sides.

Les Jaunards emerged the victors of their last two meetings, but do not have good form against Leinster in Champions Cup knock-out games, losing at the RDS in 2010 and in Bordeaux in 2012.

It is not just previous encounters that link the teams: Joe Schmidt was Clermont’s backs coach before he took over as head coach at Leinster in 2010 and forwards coach Jono Gibbes made the opposite move, starting at Clermont in 2014.

Clermont qualified as number one seed from the pool stage, but this is a club whose history is littered with finals reached and not won.

The club made it to the Champions Cup final in 2013 and 2015 and were defeated on both occasions, if Leinster are to stop them getting a third crack at winning a final, these three men will have to slowed down.

Camille Lopez

Lopez secured his place as France’s starting fly-half with mature performances in the November Tests, but the 28-year-old had been impressing crowds at Top 14 powerhouse Clermont long before that.

He was the top points scorer in this year’s RBS 6 Nations as his boot helped France to a third place finish in the Championship and Leinster can be sure he will capitalise if allowed a kick in front of the sticks.

Lopez has racked up the most try assists in European Rugby this season, helping his teammates across the whitewash seven times, and is particularly formidable when he links up with fellow France international Rémi Lamerat in the midfield.

He played a starring role in a thumping win over Grenoble last week, although was off-target from the kicking tee. Leinster will be hoping for more of the same in that regard, particularly with Johnny Sexton from a kicking perspective at the moment.

Arthur Iturria

Agile and athletic lock Iturria repeatedly finds space to break through the opposition’s defence and regularly contributes the most tackles for his team, making 156 in the Top 14 so far this season.

Iturria will be all the more threatening given Clermont head coach Franck Azema has made sure the pack is rested, with forwards only playing an average of 32 minutes each since their quarter-final three weeks ago.

The 22-year-old made his debut for France against England in this year’s RBS 6 Nations but this is still his first season as a regular for Clermont so how he copes on the big occasion could be crucial.

He has already impressed against Irish opposition this season, with a standout display against Ulster in Round 4, so his battle with Devin Toner could be an intriguing one.

Morgan Parra

While Iturria and Lopez will be facing Leinster for the first time, Parra has been on both winning and losing sides against the Dublin side.

A vastly experienced scrum-half, he is the heartbeat of the side and a natural leader. He was the youngest French player to win 50 caps, and remains one of the canniest operators in the position, now at the age of 28.

A great kicker and real competitor, Clermont have been a much better team when he has been playing this season, and he is arguably the player they can least afford to lose.

Capable of taking on kicking duties from Lopez, depending on who is feeling better on the day, their partnership has been key to Clermont’s success this season.

He will be up against Luke McGrath, who is in the form of his life, and for the Leinster and Ireland youngster, this will be the chance to prove himself against one of Europe’s best.

If Leinster can shut down Parra quickly, they will have a great shot at a potential all-Irish final.

The Guinness PRO12 Final takes place on May 27 at Aviva Stadium, Dublin. Fans can guarantee their place by booking their tickets via www.ticketmaster.ie

Further information: www.pro12rugby.com/final