Clermont v Ospreys preview: Welsh region face daunting task
Clermont host Ospreys in their delayed Champions Cup opener on Sunday: 13:00 kick-off
Visitors make just the one change to starting XV which coasted past Exeter last week
In the four previous meetings between these two clubs in the Champions’ Cup, each has been won by the home team
Zavit Zirakashvili returns to the field for Clermont this weekend as they host the Ospreys in the European Champions Cup on Sunday.
The Georgia international has recovered from a facial injury to start at prop, while Damien Chouly will captain the French hosts, as Camille Lopez gets in ahead of Brock James at fly-half.
Wesley Fofana and Aurelien Rougerie make up a strong Clermont midfield pairing with Nick Abendanon joined by David Strettle and Noa Nakaitaci in a dangerous back three.
Meanwhile, in the away camp, Ospreys make just the one change to starting XV which coasted past Exeter last week. It is an enforced change, with Tom Grabham replacing the hamstrung Dafydd Howells.
Hanno Dirksen continues on the bench after stepping in as a late replacement last weekend for Ben John, who misses his second successive game through illness, while 20-year-old Rory Thornton will make his European debut if he comes off the bench.
In the four previous meetings between these two clubs in the Champions’ Cup, each has been won by the home team. Clermont, who have won their last 23 home Champions’ Cup games, won the last match between the two sides and are aiming to win consecutive matches against Ospreys for the first time in this competition.
But Ospreys’ two victories over Clermont are the only defeats the French side have suffered in their last 12 matches against Welsh opposition, having won the other ten.
With two well-matched sides hopeful of progression past the group stages, a close, high-quality game is in prospect in Auvergne. Clermont are favourites due to their daunting home record, but Ospreys showed they are no pushovers in getting past Exeter last weekend. The hosts will have to be at their best to take the spoils. Clermont by 5.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Clermont: Nick Abendanon
In a high-class back division, former England man Abendanon could well be key for the Frenchmen. The full back, who picked up two international caps back in 2007, ended a nine-year spell with Bath to join up with today’s hosts last year, and will be looking to use his experience of the British game to his advantage.
Ospreys: Alun Wyn Jones
An iron-like stalwart of the Wales international side, the 30-year-old has served his current side with distinction since 2005. A fearsome competitor with his fair share of skill in possession, when the chips are down, Jones will step up. If the Swansea-based side are to take anything from their trip to France today, expect the 94-cap Welshman to have helped earn it.
Clermont: 15 Nick Abendanon, 14 David Strettle, 13 Aurélien Rougerie, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Noa Nakaitaci, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Alexandre Lapandry, 6 Damien Chouly (c), 5 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 4 Jamie Cudmore, 3 Davit Zirakashvili, 2 Benjamin Kayser, 1 Thomas Domingo
Replacements: 16 Marthinius Van Der Westhuizen, 17 Raphael Chaume, 18 Daniel Kotze, 19 Flip Van Der Merwe, 20 Vito Kolelishvili, 21 Ludovic Radoslavjevic , 22 Brock James, 23 Albert Vulivuli
Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Tom Grabham, 13 Jonathan Spratt, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Eli Walker, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 James King, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (c), 4 Lloyd Ashley, 3 Dmitri Arhip, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Paul James
Replacements: 16 Sam Parry, 17 Ryan Bevington, 18 Aaron Jarvis, 19 Rory Thornton, 20 Dan Baker, 21 Thomas Habberfield, 22 Sam Davies, 23 Hanno Dirksen
Date: Sunday, November 22
Venue: Stade Marcel-Michelin
Kick-off: 14:00 local (13:00 GMT)
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: David Wilkinson (Ireland), Olly Hodges (Ireland)
TMO: Marshall Kilgore (Ireland)