- Clermont-Ferrand - rugby - Top 14
Clermont bid to break their duck with 11th crack at title
Clermont, the perennial runners-up of French rugby, hope to break their duck Saturday as they take on title holders Perpignan in the final of the Top 14, a tournament that has sensationally eluded them on each of their 10 previous final appearances.
AFP - Clermont will be hoping that it is 11th time lucky when they clash with reigning champions Perpignan in their fourth successive Top 14 final at the Stade de France here on Saturday.
Desperate to shake off their perennial "chokers" tag after three straight final losses, Clermont face a re-run of last year's showdown which they lost 22-13, but hooker Mario Ledesma is confident that his team would be up to the challenge.
"We prepared very well for the final last year," he stressed, scoffing at the idea that the team simply didn't have the nerve for the big occasion.
"That cracks me up. We always hear 'Clermont are finished, they no longer play in the same way, they're not there mentally'.
"Certain players have taken that to heart, like Brock James over the last month, but the best response is what we brought to the pitch.
"Brock kicked a very important 50-metre drop-goal, penalty and conversion against Toulon," to help win a semi-final thriller 35-29 in extra-time.
Perpignan finished top of the French league after the regulation season and beat newly crowned European champions - and 17-time French champions - Toulouse 21-13 in their semi-final.
They will be missing South African flanker Gerrie Britz, who has had to return home for family reasons, but winger Adrien Plante Argentinian lock Rimas Alvarez Kairelis and flanker Damien Chouly are in the match-day squad.
"We're really hoping for a big team display," said centre Maxime Mermoz. "Individually, we're expecting everyone at their top level.
"We're being very careful this year," he added. "Last year, we were the outsiders, and that is maybe a little different this season even if we're not out-and-out favourites."
Mermoz said a second straight title would be a "dream", but warned that they were expecting a huge physical battle.
"The attitude of the players has changed, and that shows in the way they play man-on-man. They also used their forwards more, and rolling mauls to suck in defences and open up gaps for their backline," he said.
Scrum-half Morgan Parra, one of France's key men in the Six Nations Grand Slam, will take over as kicker for Clermont, with Australian outside-half Brock James, whose form with the boot has been hit-and-miss over the season, taking a backseat.
Perpignan have their own metronomic kicker in full-back Jerome Porical, who kicked all the Catalan club's points in the semi-final and whose form has earned him a call-up to the France summer tour to Argentina and South Africa.