All Black outhalf ruled ineligible as Clermont’s preparations suffer
Vern Cotter admits run up has been ‘a little disjointed’ as his side look short at number 10
Vern Cotter: “We’re sort of patching guys up and getting medical staff to give us a run down or give us an assessment of where these players are . . . But hopefully by Saturday we’ll have a team.”
Clermont Auvergne have received a blow ahead of Saturday’s Heineken Cup semi-final against Munster with the news that All Black outhalf Mike Delany will not be eligible to play.
Delany was signed as a medical joker to cover for long-term injury victim Julien Farnoux, and he has already been vital to Clermont in recent weeks following further injuries to Brock James and David Skrela.
Yesterday, however, the ERC said the French club’s request to register the player for their European squad had come after the March 21st deadline for the knockout stages.
Although he did not say as much, Clermont head coach Vern Cotter did not seem too happy about the decision as he met the press at the Stade Marcel-Michelin yesterday.
Delany had impressed against Toulon and Toulouse in the Top 14, but Cotter suggested that the 30-year-old would have missed Saturday’s game through injury anyway.
With James only returning to training and Skrela hoping to play a full part later in the week, Cotter admitted that his side’s preparations had been “a little bit disjointed” so far.
He confirmed James would be in the 23 for this weekend’s game in Montpellier but he also revealed club captain Aurelien Rougerie had not yet returned to training after limping off against Toulouse. Fijian wing Napolioni Nalaga also sat out the early week sessions with an ankle complaint.
“It’s been a bit difficult starting the week,” Cotter said. “We haven’t been able to train with the 15 players that will take the field yet. We’re sort of patching guys up and getting medical staff to give us a run down or give us an assessment of where these players are . . . But hopefully by Saturday we’ll have a team.”
Cotter does not read much into being favourites to win on Saturday, pointing to Munster’s quarter-final victory over Harlequins as proof that the bookies are often wrong.
“I think Munster have looked backwards to move forward,” the New Zealander said. “I think they have gone back to their DNA – something that’s made them an historical team in the Heineken Cup.
“They’re a gutsy lot and they’ve got their leader back in Paul O’Connell. They’ve drawn the wagons around and they’re ready to have a crack.”
Mention of O’Connell inevitably leads to a question about how the Munster captain avoided punishment for his kick on Leinster’s Dave Kearney. Sitting on a balcony in the blazing midday sun, Cotter did not want to be drawn on the issue yesterday, although he did admit his surprise.
“The decision has been made . . . We’re just going to get on with the job. He is going to be in the team opposite us and we’ve just got to try and do our best to play our game.”
Overall, Clermont are much better prepared to face Munster than when they met them in the pool stages in 2007 and 2008, with their first French title in 2010 being followed by a first Heineken Cup semi-final appearance last season.
“Those games we played were our apprenticeship in the Heineken,” Cotter says. “We came up against Munster, discovered Thomond Park and then 30 points later we sort of went home and said ‘well this is different than the Top 14’.
“We weren’t equipped for it at that stage. We didn’t have a squad big enough to compete in a very tough domestic competition and the Heineken as well.”
Joe Schmidt was by Cotter’s side during painful first encounters against both Munster and Leinster, and the Clermont head coach feels his former assistant would be an ideal choice for the Ireland job.
“He’s a guy that’s smart, he’s a good technician and he knows his game. He’s a good person . . . He’s done very well with Leinster – with a lot of our plays,” Cotter laughed.
“I’m very happy for Joe and I think it’s a logical progression for him. I’ve spoken to him recently and hopefully things will work out for him and he’ll be able to take the job. And he’ll be very good for Irish rugby.”