Five reasons why Saints can claim victory at Clermont Auvergne

INJURY DOUBT - key Clermont Auvergne player Morgan Parra

INJURY DOUBT - key Clermont Auvergne player Morgan Parra

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Saints head to Clermont Auvergne on Saturday with the odds stacked against them.

The Top 14 giants boast a formidable home record and a sizeable pedigree in Europe’s top tier competition.

They have not lost at home in Europe since Sale won there in 2008 and they have come so close to claiming Heineken Cup glory in each of the past three seasons.

But Saints should not be daunted by the challenge that lies in wait.

And here are five reasons why...

Clermont are under pressure...

With men such as Dylan Hartley, Kahn Fotuali’i and Samu Manoa in their side, they are a match for anyone on their day

Tom Vickers

Always the bridesmaids, never the brides, Clermont made the semi-finals of the Heineken Cup in each of the past three seasons. They got to the final in 2013, losing out by a single point to Toulon, and this talented team now need to deliver the big one. They have not been beaten at home in Europe since Sale won there in 2008 and they will be huge favourites to progress on Saturday. Defeat is almost unthinkable for Les Jaunards and Saints need to take advantage of the expectation that will be weighing heavy on the home side’s shoulders.

Saints love being underdogs...

As stated in the previous point, Saints are huge underdogs for this quarter-final clash. They lost to Racing Metro twice in the pool stages - although they could easily have won in France - which has put them in this precarious position. But anyone who has been following Saints during the past few seasons will know they love a challenge. They used the term ‘Why not us?’ to propel them to the Premiership final in 2013 and have shown they can upset the odds in Europe on a number of occasions. The most memorable of those came in Dublin in December, 2013, when Leinster were humbled on home soil having routed Jim Mallinder’s men 40-7 at Franklin’s Gardens just a week earlier. Ulster suffered a similar fate in 2012 as Saints turned the tables in Belfast following a 25-6 defeat in Northampton seven days earlier. They have beaten big teams on their own turf before - and they can do it again.

They are the English champions for a reason...

Clermont may have the kind of star-studded squad that a Top 14 budget allows, but Saints are not a bad side either. With men such as Dylan Hartley, Kahn Fotuali’i and Samu Manoa in their side, they are a match for anyone on their day. Those three stars, along with several other Saints players, have been coveted by clubs in France and Manoa will make the move to Toulon this summer. First, he will want to help his side claim European glory, and there is no doubt that a team that won both the Aviva Premiership and Amlin Challenge Cup last season has the firepower to get the job done.

Clermont have injuries, too...

Saints’ preparation for Saturday’s clash was far from smooth as last Friday’s win against Wasps was soured by a triple injury blow. George North was forced off with concussion and will surely miss this weekend’s game, while George Pisi (broken finger) and Christian Day (hamstring strain) are also doubtful. But Clermont have their own injury issues to contend with. Fly-half Camille Lopez, scrum-half Morgan Parra and influential centre Wesley Fofana are all set to miss out, meaning three key members of the backline will be absent. And when you consider Fofana and Parra’s points were the key to beating Leicester in last season’s Heineken Cup quarter-final, they will be a loss.

Leicester pushed Clermont close last season...

As mentioned, Clermont did get the better of Leicester in the last eight last April - but they made hard work of it. Fofana’s try and Parra’s boot eventually secured a 22-16 win, but Tigers pushed their opponents close. The men from the midlands had been 16-0 down, but they pulled it back to 19-16 and pushed for the winning try before Parra’s penalty took the game away from them. Maybe they didn’t quite believe they could get over the line one more time, but if Saints show real self-confidence this weekend, they could just succeed where their local rivals failed.