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ASM Clermont Auvergne skipper Damien Chouly is out for revenge against Toulon in the European Rugby Champions Cup.
Chouly has played in two of the last four Champions Cup finals where Clermont have narrowly lost to their rivals from France's Top14.
Clermont host Mike Ford's superstars in the quarter-finals of the tournament at the Stade Marcel-Michelin on Sunday in an all-French encounter which has all the makings of a potential classic.
“This competition is special, and it’s very much there in the history and DNA of the club,” said back-row Chouly. “All of us have experienced some great European campaigns but, unfortunately, it has twice ended up with defeat in the final.
“But we’re back in the competition and we want to bring the trophy back to the club and to our supporters. Our pool campaign went really well, we finished top, and we’re playing at home in this quarter-final.
“Quarter-final matches are different because the game is different – it’s a knock-out game. If you lose then it’s all over, the whole campaign is over.
“So there’s a lot of excitement. The atmosphere is different, as well. Everyone works harder because they know they have to raise their level for these games.”
While Clermont dream of Champions Cup glory, Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal says his team are not prioritising the competition this year.
Boudjellal is targeting a top-six finish in the Top 14 to ensure Toulon play Champions Cup rugby next season. Toulon currently sit fourth in the table, but are just three points ahead of sixth-placed Pau.
“The Clermont game is not a priority. For us, the championship is of paramount importance,” said Boudjellal. “This season has been difficult for us and now we must finish in the top six because it’s imperative to play in the European Cup.
“When we see Clermont play, we see their strength and the players they have.”
Clermont comfortably reached the knock-out stages of the Champions Cup after topping Pool 5, while Toulon finished runners-up to last year’s winners Saracens.
It should be a tight encounter between two physical sets of forwards, but Clermont's home record makes them favourites ahead of kick-off.
- This will be the third meeting between the clubs in the European Cup. Both previous matches were finals (2013 and 2015) with Toulon emerging victorious on each occasion.
- Clermont have won their last four tournament quarter-finals with the last three coming at Stade Marcel-Michelin. They had lost their previous three matches at this stage (all away from home).
- This will be Toulon's sixth quarter-final appearance; their previous five games at this stage have all been won by the home side on the day (W3, L2).
- Toulon have averaged 17 points per game in their 20 away fixtures in the tournament, losing three of their last four games on the road.
- No 1 seeds, Clermont, were the most disciplined side in the pool stage, conceding a competition low average of 7.8 penalties per game
- Of the clubs in the quarter-finals, only Clermont, beaten finalists in 2013 and 2015, and Glasgow Warriors, who have reached the last eight for the first time, have not yet won European club rugby's most prestigious prize.
- Toulon were one of just three sides to manage success rates of 90% + at both lineout (94%) and scrum (97%) in the pool stage (also Saracens and Leinster).
- Leigh Halfpenny missed more shots at goal (9) than any other player in the pool stage. His success rate of 72% was the lowest of any of the nine players to land 15 + kicks at goal.
- Only Zebre's Derick Minnie (12) won more turnovers than Duane Vermeulen in the pool stage (11).
- Camille Lopez provided six try assists in the pool stage, the joint most of any player along with Munster's Conor Murray.
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ASM Clermont Auvergne will play Leinster Rugby in the semi-finals of this season’s European Rugby Champions Cup after their 29-9 defeat of Toulon.
Noa Nakaitaci’s try on the hour mark was the crucial moment, and the boot of Morgan Parra and Camille Lopez combined with a late breakaway try from replacement Damian Penaud took Clermont home.
Toulon had just three penalties from Leigh Halfpenny to show for their efforts, as their dreams of a fourth European title in five seasons disappeared.
The wet weather at the Stade Marchel Michelin didn’t help either team to play, and the two sides turned around level at 6-6 with the boot dominating the contest.
Parra and Halfpenny succeeded with two shots at goal apiece, but both were guilty of misses which could have put their team in a better position.
In the end, level pegging at half time was a fair result, with both sides struggling to get their backs into the game.
Camille Lopez put a drop goal effort wide for the home side just before the break, but it was Clermont who totally dominated the second period.
Halfpenny could only add one more penalty for the visitors, Parra also on the scoresheet again, before at 9-9 Clermont struck for the game’s vital score.
Aurelien Rougerie smashed through a couple of Toulon tackles, giving the home side the platform for Lopez to put Nakaitaci into the corner.
Parra converted and with that the game was done.
That wasn’t the end of the scoring though as Clermont put their stamp on the game late on.
After missing with a penalty effort, Parra then added another three-pointer and converted Penaud’s late try after he sprinted clear to add gloss to the scoreline.
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