Stade Francais v Clermont Auvergne, Amlin Challenge Cup, April 29
Stade set aside domestic struggles
April 29, 2011
Aurelien Rougerie spots a gap in the Stade defence during the Top 14 clash between the two sides recently © Getty Images
Stade Francais and Clermont Auvergne will fight it out at the Stade Charlety for a place in the Amlin Challenge Cup final only two weeks after meeting in the French Top 14.
Clermont won the clash at the Stade de France 20-12 but both sides were quick to play down the significance of the encounter. Stade's form in Europe has been far better than their domestic travails, where they lie tenth in the French Top 14, and are unbeaten in the competition, having beaten Montpellier 32-28 in the quarter-final.
Clermont similarly came through an all French quarter-final, beating La Rochelle 23-13 away from home. They will be going in search of their third Challenge Cup title after successes in 1999 and 2007.
Stade Francais - Player to Watch Sergio Parisse is a talismatic figure in whichever team he plays for and Stade will be looking to the skilful Italian to take them over the gainline and link-up with Julien Dupuy.
Stade Francais - Team News: Stade make 12 changes from their previous outing with Gonzalo Tiesi, Julien Arias and Guilliaume Bousses the only players retained. England internationals James Haskell and Tom Palmer return to the pack along with Italy skipper Parisse. Dupuy and Lionel Beauxis form the half-back partnership while Mathieu Bastareaud is back in midfield.
Clermont Auvergne - Player to Watch: With Clermont's pack shorn of a number of experienced performers, they will be looking to their France international second-row Julien Pierre, who returns to the starting XV, to lead the pack.
Clermont Auvergne - Team News: Clermont also make a raft of changes with Mario Ledesma, Julien Bonnaire and Sione Lauaki all left out of the starting XV. Tasesa Lavea suffered an injury during training and Brent Russell comes into partner Morgan Parra at half-back in the absence of Brock James.
Key Battle: Current France scrum-half Parra will go head to head with former French international Dupuy around the fringes and possibly in front of the posts in what could prove to be a crucial duel.
Trivia: Stade's last experience in the semi-final stage of the Amlin Challenge Cup came in 1998 when they lost to Colomiers.
Stats: Stade have conceded more than 100 points in their past three matches.
"Make no bones about it, we would have been on suicide watch if we had lost to Montpellier. But we didn't. We're still in it and we've got Clermont in the semi-final at home and then we go up against Munster or Quins." - Stade Francais winger Ollie Phillips
Prediction: Stade's greater focus on the European affairs to be decisive as the hosts progress to the final.
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