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European preview: Clermont Auvergne v Saracens

Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall admits his side will have the toughest of challenges on their hands when they step out to face Clermont Auvergne this afternoon.

McCall’s men have the chance to make it two European finals in a row but must beat a Clermont side that so impressively dispatched Aviva Premiership Rugby champions Northampton Saints two weeks ago.

However, Sarries wove a fairytale ending of their own in the quarter-finals as Marcelo Bosch, who this week penned a new contract at Allianz Park, kicked a last-gasp penalty against Racing Metro to send them through.

And they can take even more heart from the manner of their semi-final victory over Clermont just a year ago, Chris Ashton running in a try-double in a 46-6 thumping.

The clash will take place at Saint-Etienne’s Stade Geoffroy-Guichard and McCall says his side must find a way to smother Clermont’s attacking rugby.

"We're still going to France, but it's not quite the same as going to their own ground," said Saracens boss Mark McCall.

"Clermont's performance against Northampton in the quarter-finals was as good as anything that has been played by a club side this season, so we have got to try to find a way to put them under some pressure and put them in some difficult positions."

Saracens have been boosted by the return of Owen Farrell – who starts among the replacements – while Brad Barritt captains in the absence of the injured Al Hargreaves.

Barritt said: “We did not play our best rugby (against Racing Metro) but we were still able to come through it because of our determination.

“We know against Clermont we will have to find a different gear to be successful. But we have that extra quality to be able to fight through key moments in a game.”

Clermont contain an Aviva Premiership Rugby old boy in Nick Abendanon, who was at his influential best in the win against Saints.

But they suffered a shock Top 14 defeat to Oyonnax last time out and Welsh centre Jonathan Davies insists there will be no repeat of that performance this weekend.

“They pride themselves on putting pressure on opponents, taking advantage of the errors they might force,” he said. “A big focus for us has been to concentrate on negating mistakes and playing in the right areas of the field.

“It is good to have that sense of expectation. There has been an edge and a clarity about us in this campaign.

“The loss to Oyonnax has shaken up the camp. Maybe we took things for granted. We won’t be doing that this weekend.”

Clermont: Nick Abendanon; Noa Nakaitaci, Jonathan Davies, Wesley Fofana, Naipolioni Nalaga, Brock James, Ludovic Radoslavjevic; Vincent Debaty, Benjamin Kayser, Davit Zirakashvili, Jamie Cudmore, Sebastien Vahaamahina, Julien Bonnaire, Julien Bardy, Damien Chouly.

Replacements: John Ulugia, Raphael Chaume, Clement Ric, Julien Pierre, Alexandre Lapandry, Morgan Parra, Camille Lopez, Aurélien Rougerie.

Saracens: Alex Goode; Chris Ashton, Marcelo Bosch, Brad Barritt, Chris Wyles; Charlie Hodgson, Richard Wigglesworth; Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Petrus Du Plessis, George Kruis, Jim Hamilton, Maro Itoje, Jacques Burger, Billy Vunipola.

Replacements: Schalk Brits, Rhys Gill, James Johnston, Kelly Brown, Jackson Wray, Neil de Kock, Owen Farrell, David Strettle.

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