Heineken Champions Cup: The topics of conversation on Sunday


Alivereti Raka starts on the left wing for Clermont against Toulouse

Sunday’s Heineken Champions Cup action is purely French as Bordeaux-Begles take on Racing 92 and Clermont Auvergne against Toulouse …

Jalibert is Bordeaux’s miracle man

Bordeaux-Begles is in the quarter-finals of the European Cup for the first time and has largely to thank Matthieu Jalibert for that.

Romain Ntamack was France’s starting number 10 in the Six Nations 2020 and was then nominated as a player of the championship. However, an injury to Ntamack paved the way for Jalibert to cement his place this year.

The 22-year-old did not disappoint and started every game at this year’s championship bar – the decisive factor was the loss to Scotland, which cost Les Bleus the chance to overtake champions Wales in the finals of the tournament.

Jalibert’s formidable form for the country has turned into a club that starred in last week’s quarter-final win over Bristol with a try, five penalties and a conversion for a personal distance of 22 points.

Can he go one step further and steer his side past a star-studded Parisian team to change their play-off underachievers?

Race – which rans too?

Racing 92 has had some heartbreaking losses in knockout European Cup games over the years, losing to finalists in three of the last five tournaments.

Their first European Cup final was a 21-9 loss to Saracens in 2016. Four of the players who started this game started against Bordeaux-Begles on Sunday. Wenceslas Prize Winners, Eddy Ben Arous, Juan Imhoff and Captain Maxime Makeaud.

In 2018 they were beaten by Leinster in Bilbao at 15:12. Their game was derailed after All Blacks legend Dan Carter – who was originally named on the bench – was eliminated from the game with a hamstring injury and a springbok fly before kick-off. Half of Pat Lambie was pushed off the field after three minutes with a knee injury.

Last season they faced Exeter in the final, with the Chiefs winning 31-27 in a vibrant affair at Ashton Gate.

Are they battle-tested by their misery? Or will those play-off scars come back to haunt Bordeaux?

Clermont wants to overturn the story

Incredibly, Clermont did its best to reach Racing 92 with three runners-up of its own – 2013, 2015 and 2017.

Overall, Clermont and Racing 92 have lost finalists in six of them over the past eight seasons. The other two teams that lost a final during this period were Saracens 2013 and Leinster 2019.

Clermont have lost their last two European home games but will be happy to see they took the spoils in the opening round of this season’s top 14 competition against Toulouse.

Clermont lost to Toulon in the 2015 final in Twickenham

Clermont lost to Toulon in the 2015 final in Twickenham

“We know Clermont very well and they know us,” said Romain Ntamack. “We will try to study them on video as best we can.

“We know they won’t stop until the 80th minute and that it will be a game of international standard that we are preparing for.”

The two 14 teams met in the quarter-finals of the 1999/00 competition, with Toulouse having 31 to 18 winners.

Kolbe versus Raka the box office showdown

In boxing, they say styles trigger fights and nowhere in Sunday’s European Cup is this more evident than in the fight between Cheslin Kolbe and Alivereti Raka.

Toulouse’s right wing, Kolbe, a World Cup winner in the Springboks, is known for his speed and elusive footwork, while his counterpart Raka has built a reputation for a strong dumping game.

Damian de Allende is hugged by Springbok's team-mate Cheslin Kolbe after Toulouse beat Münster in the round of 16 earlier this month

Damian de Allende is hugged by Springbok’s team-mate Cheslin Kolbe after Toulouse beat Münster in the round of 16 earlier this month

Neither player did their best in the last 16 games when Clermont beat Wespen and Toulouse in a thrilling knockout match against Münster, but this weekend’s showdown is sure to be a box office hit.

You’re not the only one the cameras will follow with interest. Raka is supported by the Japanese speedster Kotaro Matsushima and Raka’s French teammate Damian Penaud, while Kolbe is supported by Maxime Médard and Matthis Lebel as partners.

While the forward game will be an interesting arm wrestling, the electric back fight at Stade Marcel-Michelin will keep fans entertained.

Bordeaux-Begles versus Racing 92 (12.30 p.m.)

Bordeaux Begles: 15 Romain Buros, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Yoram Falatea-Moefana, 12 Rémi Lamerat, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Matthieu Jalibert, 9 Maxime Lucu, 1 Jefferson Poirot (c), 2 Clement Maynadier, 3 Vadim Cobilas, 4 Kane Douglas, 5 Cyril Cazeaux, 6 Cameron Woki, 7 Guido Petti, 8 Scott Higginbotham.

Replacements: 16 Joseph Dweba, 17 Lekso Kaulashvili, 18 Ben Tameifuna, 19 Thomas Jolmes, 20 Alexandre Roumat, 21 Yann Lesgourgues, 22 Ulupano Seuteni, 23 Nans Ducuing.

Race 92: 15 Emiliano Boffelli, 14 Louis Dupichot, 13 Olivier Klemenczak, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Juan Imhoff, 10 Antoine Gibert, 9 Maxime Makeaud (c), 1 Eddy Ben Arous, 2 Camille Chat, 3 Cedate Gomes Sa, 4 Boris Palu, 5 Donnacha Ryan, 6 Wenzel Lauret, 7 Baptiste Chouzenoux, 8 Jordan Joseph.

Replacements: 16 Teddy Baubigny, 17 Guram Gogichashvili, 18 Georges Henri Colombe, 19 Luke Jones, 20 Ibrahim Diallo, 21 Teddy Iribaren, 22 Francois Trinh-Duc, 23 Donovan Taofifenua.

Clermont Auvergne versus Toulouse (3 p.m.)

Clermont Auvergne: 15 Kotaro Matsushima, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 George Moala, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Alivereti Raka, 10 Camille Lopez (c), 9 Morgan Parra, 1 Peni Ravai, 2 Adrien Pélissié, 3 Cristian Ojovan, 4 Peceli Yato, 5 Sébastien Vahaamahina , 6 Judicaël Cancoriet, 7 Alexandre Fischer, 8 Fritz Lee.

Replacements: 16 Etienne Fourcade, 17 Daniel Bibi Biziwu, 18 Rabah Slimani, 19 Paul Jedrasiak, 20 Thibaud Lanen, 21 Arthur Iturria, 22 Sébastien Bézy, 23 Tim Nanai-Williams.

Toulouse: 15 Maxime Médard, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Zack Holmes, 12 Pita Ahki, 11 Matthis Lebel, 10 Romain Ntamack, 9 Antoine Dupont, 1 Cyril Baille, 2 Julien Marchand (c), 3 Charlie Faumuina, 4 Rory Arnold, 5 Richie Arnold , 6 Selevasio Tolofua, 7 Francois Cros, 8 Jerome Cain.

Substitutions: 16 Peato Mauvaka, 17 Clément Castets, 18 Dorian Aldegheri, 19 Joe Tekori, 20 Thibaud Flament, 21 Alban Placines, 22 Baptiste Germain, 23 Yoann Huget.


Steven Gregory