All eyes look to Edinburgh in two weeks time, for the finals of the European Professional Rugby Champions Cup and Challenge Cup. But these won’t be the match-ups that most expected; two European semi final away victories see two Anglo-French finals for the second year running.
From a marketing perspective, an all-Irish and a West Country Derby final would have been perfect. Landlords, pub and hotel, would have been spending their profits already. Sadly for them, only Gloucester ‘held up their side of the bargain’ with an incredibly unexpected win at La Rochelle. This was the first time since 2013 that two of the four semi-finals produced away wins.
Champions Cup: Saracens and Clermont meet again
These two have form in Europe semi-finals, with one win each in the past four years. However it will be the first time they meet in the final. For Clermont, this is another test of their mental strength (read more about this here) as they reach for the Cup. They face Saracens, who are almost the polar opposite in psychological terms (see more here).
Beating Munster in front of a raucous Aviva Stadium crowd is no mean feat, and Saracens had enough recent finals experience not to choke. Clermont have equally reached enough finals and had enough internationals in their line-up to be able to handle the pressure–even if outside of France, there is always an air of doubt over their chances of victory.
These two leading sides will now journey to Edinburgh to face off in a highly charged final, on May 13.
Challenge Cup: Battle for 2018 Champions Cup Qualification
Gloucester and Stade Français will meet for the first time since 2005 in the Challenge Cup final. Both have rather large off-field distractions; this could have been Stade’s last match in existence–considering their financial issues/recent attempts to merge with Racing92. But aside from that, their win over bath was a great result.
As it is, this match leaves two Six Nations captains the chance to lift the trophy before they depart for new clubs. For Greig Laidlaw in particular; a victory in his city of birth would be particularly sweet leaving present. Stade skipper Sergio Parisse is rumoured to be off to Montpellier or Lyon, but winning this final would be a perfect send-off for the club stalwart.
For Gloucester, handing La Rochelle their first home defeat of the season could be huge turning point. Having let multiple leads ‘slip away’ late in games this season, to lead and see-out the win will be huge motivation to win the Challenge Trophy.
Finals rugby is the white-hot atmosphere–so it was ironic then that it was Brock James who threw the intercept pass and missed three kicks at goal. The former Clermont man was a key figure for Clermont during their many European finals rugby disappointments.
These two leading sides will now journey to Edinburgh to face off in a highly charged final, on May 12.
These two away wins on European semifinal weekend have resulted in two very interesting-looking finals. All the sides have domestic league distractions before their Edinburgh outings, and it is likely that those who can sustain momentum from this result, and going through the next three weeks, will emerge victorious at Murrayfield.
“Main photo credit”