This is the big finals weekend in Rugby with the Magners League, Guinness Premiership, Super 14 and Top 14 all reaching their climax. Given the BBC doesn’t even consider the latter worthy of including in their fixture list we’ve started with that one.
Can something go right for Clermont Auvergne?
After coming second in 10 previous attempts, including the last three finals, this will be a nerve-wracking Top 14 decider for Clermont Auvergne. This team is the James Marsden of Rugby, increasingly likeable because of all the suffering it goes through making you want it to finally pull through in the clinch. This game finally has the potential to be a little different for wholly psychological reasons.
On a raw talent level there is no difference of note between these teams. Like any team serious about winning the Top 14 title Perpignan and Clermont Auvergne are loaded with talent. As defending champions and having topped the ladder in the regular season Perpignan should be under pressure to win but there is no doubt that all eyes are on Clermont Auvergne to finally win the big one.
While backing Clermont Auvergne to win is the trendy option, sympathy is not the reason I’m picking them to win this. For any team in elite sport there comes a point where you have to win a game you’re supposed to lose before you can make the big breakthrough, before you can get over the hurdles required to go to that next step. It happened for Clermont Auvergne against Toulon, that’s the game which brought this team over the mental threshold and that could go a long way towards deciding tonight’s final.
Speaking about teams needing to win the big one
Ryan Jones of the Ospreys said it all without realising it earlier this week. He said this was a team “used to being in big games”. The stats would indicate this is a team used to losing in big games. Don’t get me wrong, this is a team perfectly capable of winning a major title with the next couple of seasons but it’s not there yet, not by a long shot.
The string of defeats to Leinster in the RDS, a team which managed to make remarkably hard work of compiling an undefeated home record in the Magners League, coupled with the repeated failures in big games makes me lack faith in the Welsh side.
This Leinster squad comes into this game with a massive mental edge. Even without accounting for the emotional factor with outgoing coaches and players, they hold a massive home advantage, and in recent years Leinster has become used to winning. Weighted against the Ospreys’ total lack of ability to close out a ‘big one’ in the clinch there’s only one way to call this, home win.
Order will remain for one more year
The Saracens renaissance has been fascinating to watch. It’s been a far from balanced season for Sarries but it has undoubtedly been a success. The South African experiment may only just be beginning and this could radically change the shape of the English club game in coming seasons.
Today will not be the turning point however. Saracens enjoyed a miracle run to secure a semi-final spot and then a place in the final. The party ends in Twickenham against the ultimate closers in English Rugby. With both teams having won away from home this season it’s quite fitting that this gets decided on neutral territory. Saracens are good but not good enough, Tigers to win.
And the one game where I won’t predict a winner
While I have watched some Super 14 Rugby this season I won’t pretend to have nearly enough to make a call on who will come out on top in this clash between the Bulls and the Stormers. What I will say with some certainty is that this is the perfect final match-up for viewers.
The Bulls romped to a 61-17 victory in last year’s decider over the Chiefs in a wonderfully entertaining game. Expect a free moving game here with plenty of entertainment and excitement, whoever win it will make for great viewing.