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Perpignan stand in way of first Clermont title


Latest update : 2009-06-06

Perennial runner-ups Clermont will be hoping to go tenth time lucky as they face Perpignan (pictured) in the final of France's Top 14. Vern Cotter's men earned partial revenge for last year's defeat by dispatching title holders Toulouse in the semis.

AFP - Clermont hope to achieve what they have failed to do on nine previous occasions and win French rugby's Top 14 final when they play Perpignan in Paris on Saturday.

But Clermont coach Vern Cotter is more than wary of his team's playoff opponents who finished the season joint top of the table with Toulouse.

The New Zealander's side boasts the league's strongest scrum and its stars include French international back Aurelien Rougerie and Australian fly-half Brock James. But injury worries have put question marks over the participation of Rougerie as well as wingers Napolioni Nalaga and Brent Russell.

Clermont reached the final after triumphing in the semis against Toulouse - who took the Brennus Shield last year when they faced Clermont in the final.

Ill-discipline cost Clermont the title in the 2008 decider, and Cotter has planned carefully to avoid a repeat performance.

"We know the referees will be extremely strict and that is why we will try to be as efficient as possible in that area," Cotter said.

Cotter has brought in a psychologist to prepare the side mentally for the encounter.

Scrum-half Pierre Mignoni, in his last game for Clermont after signing to play for premiership rivals Toulon next season, said: "This team has lost the final two years running, it was hard. We need to avoid making the same mistakes.

"It's not the time yet to talk about making history, that will be for Saturday," said the France international. "Only then can people say that we've become champions or else we lost again."

Perpignan were in the spotlight at the start of the year when New Zealand star Dan Carter joined the club for a planned eight-month spell, which was cut short by injury in February.

The side from the town near the Spanish border bounded back from this reverse, climbing to the head of the Top 14.

Last weekend Perpignan manager Jacques Brunel watched with satisfaction as his team saw off Stade Francais 26-21 in the playoff semi-final.

Perpignan captain Nicolas Mas believes the key to beating Clermont will be to avoid conceding points early in the game.

"We know they start their matches off very hard," the French international prop said. "In the first quarter of an hour we know they will want to put us under pressure by moving the ball all over the place, so we need to keep posession to avoid them using that tactic."

The atmosphere inside the 80,000-seat Stade de France on Saturday could also have a determining effect on the result, a factor acknowledged by Clermont skipper Rougerie.

"In the semi-final the fans were fantastic, the support amounted to a sixteenth man for us. I hope the as many as possible come to the game, so they can win too," he said.

Date created : 2009-06-06