Clermont target third Challenge Cup title against La Rochelle

Clermont tipped to triumph in first all-French final in seven years

La Rochelle winger Victor Vito  will miss the European Challenge Cup final  against Clermont. Photograph: Getty Images

La Rochelle winger Victor Vito will miss the European Challenge Cup final against Clermont. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Clermont Auvergne and La Rochelle will clash in the first all-French European Challenge Cup final for seven years on Friday.

The Top 14 clubs meet at St James’ Park in Newcastle, launching a European finals weekend that continues on Saturday when Saracens and Leinster contest the Champions Cup. Clermont will bid for a third Challenge Cup triumph, which would equal Harlequins’s tournament record if they topple first-time finalists La Rochelle.

Clermont were in imperious form during the pool stage, equalling Ospreys’s 2016-17 achievement by winning all six games with bonus points. They followed that up by knocking out quarter-final opponents Northampton 61-38, then reached the final through a 31-27 victory over Quins.

Respected

La Rochelle’s route to Newcastle has not been as straightforward, losing to Bristol in their group before meeting – and beating – them in the last-eight, and then edging past Sale Sharks.

Clermont rugby director Franck Azema lined up in the centre when his team beat Bourgoin in the 1999 Challenge Cup showpiece. And it is another all-French affair for the first time since 2012 when Biarritz defeated Toulon.

“Right from the start of the season, we have respected this competition. Everyone has done their job,” Azema told epcr.com. “The story of this European campaign is that we have been on a journey that now allows us to have the right to contest this final.

“We want to win it, and we have the hunger. We know there is this opportunity there now.” Clermont are without former England fullback Nick Abendanon because of a neck injury while Scotland scrumhalf Greig Laidlaw has been named on the bench.

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