Saints set for 'biggest challenge of them all' at Clermont
If there was a list of European rugby's most inimidating stadia, the Stade Marcel Michelin would be near the top of it.
That is because Clermont Auvergne’s atmospheric cauldron is one of the most fearsome citadels around.Fans donning the bright yellow colours of Les Jaunards create a raucous setting for visiting teams. It inspires the home players and can often put off the opposition.Saints have felt the force of it before, as they were put to the sword in ruthless fashion in April 2015.On that day, it was like men against boys as Clermont’s giants grabbed a 37-5 victory in the Champions Cup quarter-finals.Saints return to the scene of that defeat this Saturday, needing a huge reaction to last Sunday’s 57-13 evisceration at the hands of Saracens.And what better way to prove their point than by standing tall against the Clermont tide?“The good thing about rugby is that six days after the Saracens defeat, we get an opportunity to go and put it right,” said Saints defence coach Mark Hopley.“We showed after the first game of the season (when Saints lost 55-24 to Saracens at Twickenham) that we are resilient and we can bounce back (Saints won their next four games). We need to do it again this week.“Clermont are a quality side. They were European finalists last year, they’re French champions and this season they’ve won all their games at home.“At home, they are a good side and we need to be right up there to get the result on Saturday.”This weekend’s game comes in the middle of an onerous spell for Saints.They were beaten at Gloucester before last Sunday’s shocker against Saracens.And after Clermont, who were Champions Cup runners-up last season, they host Wasps in the Premiership before going to Exeter Chiefs in the Anglo-Welsh Cup.But Hopley insists these titanic clashes are what Saints want.And he said: “We worked unbelievably hard at the end of last season to be in the Champions Cup. It’s the top competition probably in the world and we’re a competitive group.“We want to test ourselves against the best.“Last week didn’t go to plan by any stretch of the imagination, and we need to learn our lessons.“We need to be better this week and that’s our focus.“Going to Clermont will be the biggest challenge of them all, but I believe we’ve got the personnel to do it.”