Saracens
Brian O'Driscoll: Home advantage key for French heavyweights
Tristan Barclay
April 16, 2015

Saracens and Leinster can expect a hostile reception even in supposedly 'neutral' venues when they travel to France for their Champions Cup semi-finals this weekend, according to Brian O'Driscoll.

The great O'Driscoll won three Heineken Cups with Leinster and was part of the side who dispatched Clermont in France at the semi-final stage back in 2012. And he believes the Home Nations' representatives face a monumental task when they venture across the Channel to take on Clermont and Toulon in their own back yards.

Both semi-finals are set to take place in nominally-neutral stadiums, but with the French cities of Saint Etienne and Marseille ready to play host to the knock-out fixtures, O'Driscoll believes the Top 14 clubs are at a major advantage.

"[Playing in France] is a big factor," O'Driscoll told ESPNScrum. "But from Sarries' point of view they went to Bordeaux a few years ago and won against Clermont, so it's not unimaginable.

"It's definitely an advantage to be playing in your own country, albeit both teams will be out of their own beds. That's one lovely factor, when you're able to sleep in your own bed and follow a similar routine the next day.

"That would be your preference rather than going to another country and eating food that's slightly different. All those are mitigating factors towards the result. They shouldn't be, but they are."

Saracens will be hoping for a repeat of their heroics in last year's semi, when they thrashed Clermont 46-6 to reach their first ever Heineken Cup final. Their vanquishers in that shoot-out in Cardiff - Toulon - will take on the PRO12's Leinster in a re-run of last year's blockbuster quarter-final, which the eventual champions won 29-14.

Toulon fans look on
Toulon fans look on© David Rogers/Getty Images

O'Driscoll says supporters will expect their players to shut out the stresses and strains that come with playing abroad, but admits even the most seasoned professionals can succumb to nerves.

O'Driscoll added: "People will say 'Ah but they're professional, it shouldn't matter', but it does. Obviously from a support point of view, there's going to be more Clermont and Toulon support than there will Leinster and Sarries.

"It's a big ask for Sarries and Leinster, but teams have gone to France and won before, but they'll be tightish games. I don't see one team running away with it, but I just fancy the two French teams to go through."

© Tristan Barclay

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