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Where: Twickenham Stadium, London
When: 15.40 (BST)
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No English team has won a Heineken Cup semi-final at Twickenham Stadium and Saracens will have to try to break that duck against a side lining up for their third successive stab at trying to reach the final.
ASM Clermont Auvergne went all the way to the Aviva Stadium in Dublin last year before falling foul of the legendary Heineken Cup hoodoo that dictates no team will remain unbeaten in the tournament. They just happened to pick the final to lose their first game.
The Heineken Cup has become akin to the Holy Grail for Clermont in recent years and Aurelien Rougerie’s men will be looking to send-off their Kiwi coach Vern Cotter with the ultimate trophy on his coaching cv. There will be similar motivation for Saracens to steer their skipper Steve Borthwick into a Heineken Cup final in his last season at the club
Under Cotter, who will become the Scottish national coach this summer, Clermont have won the Top 14 and the Amlin Challenge Cup, but the big one has eluded them to date. Winning at home has become a habit, but on the road Clermont can be vulnerable.
That will give Mark McCall and his team hope they can upset the odds and make it third time lucky for themselves at this stage, as well as for an English team at Twickenham. They were beaten at the home of English rugby by Toulon last season, while London Irish fell to Toulouse at the venue in 2008.
French teams have ended Sarries’ European adventures in the past two seasons – Clermont were 22-3 victors at Vicarage Road in the quarter-finals in 2012 and Toulon won 24-12 in last year’s semi-final – and they were beaten twice in the Pool stages by Toulouse.
Even so, the Aviva Premiership leaders snuck through to the quarter-finals as eighth seeds after finishing runners-up to Toulouse and then went to Belfast to confront the unbeaten Ulstermen at their enhanced Ravenhill ground. Two tries from England wing Chris Ashton steered Sarries to a 17-15 after home full back Jared Payne had been sent-off in the opening minutes
Clermont had to pick themselves up from a first round defeat in Paris against Racing Metro ’92 before emerging top of Pool 4 with 24 points. That earned them a home quarter-final against Leicester Tigers, which they won 22-16 to help extend their remarkable home record to 76 wins on the trot.
In their win over the Tigers, as in last season’s final defeat to Toulon in Dublin, Clermont were guilty of going off the boil in the second half. That will give the Saracens heart and a real target following their recent run of red hot form which has seen them add the scalps of top English rivals Northampton Saints and Harlequins to that of Ulster.
While Ashton, one try short of the Heineken Cup record for a season of 10, remains an obvious threat, the rest of the back three, Alex Goode and Dave Strettle, also pack a punch and outside half Owen Farrell knows all about kicking crucial points at Twickenham for club and country.
An away defeat to Brive is the only loss Clermont have suffered in their last five outings, but a home 22-16 triumph over Top 14 title rivals Toulon will give them a huge boost heading into this clash.