Heineken Champions Cup: Bordeaux-Begles tackle Racing 92 and Clermont Auvergne host Toulouse in Sunday’s quarter-finals

Alivereti Raka starts on the left wing for Clermont against Toulouse

Sunday’s Heineken Champions Cup action is all-French as Bordeaux-Begles tackle Racing 92 and Clermont Auvergne host Toulouse…

Jalibert is Bordeaux’s miracle man

Bordeaux-Begles are in the European Cup quarter-finals for the first time ever, and they largely have Matthieu Jalibert to thank for it.

Romain Ntamack was France’s starting No 10 in the 2020 Six Nations and earned a Player of the Championship nomination on the back of it, but an injury to Ntamack paved the way for Jalibert to cement his place in the team this year.

The 22-year-old did not disappoint, starting every game of this year’s Championship bar one – crucially, the loss to Scotland which cost Les Bleus the chance to leapfrog champions Wales in the final tournament fixture.

Jalibert’s impressive form for country has translated to club, starring in the quarter-final victory over Bristol last week with a try, five penalties and a conversion for a personal haul of 22 points.

Can he go one better and steer his side past a star-studded Parisian side looking to shift their tag of play-off underachievers?

Racing – the also rans?

Racing 92 have had some heart-breaking losses in the European Cup knock-outs over the years, and have been losing finalists in three of the last five tournaments.

Their first European Cup final was a 21-9 loss to Saracens in 2016, with four of the players who started that game starting against Bordeaux-Begles on Sunday; Wenceslas Lauret, Eddy Ben Arous, Juan Imhoff and captain Maxime Machenaud.

In 2018 they were beaten 15-12 by Leinster in Bilbao, their game derailed after All Blacks legend Dan Carter – who had initially been named on the bench – pulled out of the match hours before kick-off with a hamstring injury and Springbok fly-half Pat Lambie was forced off the field with a knee injury after three minutes.

Last season they featured in the final against Exeter, with the Chiefs winning 31-27 in a pulsating affair at Ashton Gate.

Will they be battle-hardened by their hardship? Or will those play-off scars come back to haunt them in Bordeaux?

Clermont looking to overturn history

Incredibly, Clermont have been doing their best to match Racing 92 with three recent runner-up finishes of their own – 2013, 2015 and 2017.

All in all, in the previous eight seasons, Clermont and Racing 92 were losing finalists in six of them. The other two teams to lose a final in that time were Saracens in 2013 and Leinster in 2019.

Clermont have lost their last two home games in the European Cup, but will be buoyed by the fact that they took the spoils when they faced Toulouse in the opening round of this season’s Top 14 competition.

Clermont lost to Toulon in the 2015 final at Twickenham

Clermont lost to Toulon in the 2015 final at Twickenham

“We know Clermont very well and they know us,” Romain Ntamack said. “We will try to study them as much as possible on video.

“We know they won’t stop until the 80th minute and that it will be a match of international standard that we are preparing for.”

The two 14 sides met at the quarter-final stage of the 1999/00 competition, with Toulouse running out 31-18 victors.

Kolbe vs Raka the box office showdown

In boxing they say styles make fights, and nowhere in the European Cup on Sunday is that more apparent than the battle between Cheslin Kolbe and Alivereti Raka.

Toulouse right wing Kolbe, a World Cup winner with the Springboks, is known for his speed and elusive footwork, while opposite number Raka has built a reputation on a strong offloading game.

Damian de Allende is embraced by Springboks team-mate Cheslin Kolbe after Toulouse beat Munster in the Last 16 fixture earlier this month

Damian de Allende is embraced by Springboks team-mate Cheslin Kolbe after Toulouse beat Munster in the Last 16 fixture earlier this month

Neither player was up to his usual best in respective last-16 fixtures as Clermont saw off Wasps and Toulouse beat Munster in a thrilling knockout match, but their showdown this weekend is sure to be box office.

They are not the only ones the cameras will be following with interest, with Raka joined in the back three by Japanese speedster Kotaro Matsushima and Raka’s France team-mate Damian Penaud, while Kolbe is partnered out wide by Maxime Médard and Matthis Lebel.

While the forward clash will be an interesting arm wrestle, the electric battle of the backs at Stade Marcel-Michelin will keep fans entertained throughout.

Bordeaux-Begles v Racing 92 (12.30pm)

Bordeaux-Begles: 15 Romain Buros, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Yoram Falatea-Moefana, 12 Rémi Lamerat, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Matthieu Jalibert, 9 Maxime Lucu, 1 Jefferson Poirot (c), 2 Clement Maynadier, 3 Vadim Cobilas, 4 Kane Douglas, 5 Cyril Cazeaux, 6 Cameron Woki, 7 Guido Petti, 8 Scott Higginbotham.

Replacements: 16 Joseph Dweba, 17 Lekso Kaulashvili, 18 Ben Tameifuna, 19 Thomas Jolmes, 20 Alexandre Roumat, 21 Yann Lesgourgues, 22 Ulupano Seuteni, 23 Nans Ducuing.

Racing 92: 15 Emiliano Boffelli, 14 Louis Dupichot, 13 Olivier Klemenczak, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Juan Imhoff, 10 Antoine Gibert, 9 Maxime Machenaud (c), 1 Eddy Ben Arous, 2 Camille Chat, 3 Cedate Gomes Sa, 4 Boris Palu, 5 Donnacha Ryan, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 7 Baptiste Chouzenoux, 8 Jordan Joseph.

Replacements: 16 Teddy Baubigny, 17 Guram Gogichashvili, 18 Georges Henri Colombe, 19 Luke Jones, 20 Ibrahim Diallo, 21 Teddy Iribaren, 22 Francois Trinh-Duc, 23 Donovan Taofifenua.

Clermont Auvergne vs Toulouse (3pm)

Clermont Auvergne: 15 Kotaro Matsushima, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 George Moala, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Alivereti Raka, 10 Camille Lopez (c), 9 Morgan Parra, 1 Peni Ravai, 2 Adrien Pélissié, 3 Cristian Ojovan, 4 Peceli Yato, 5 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 6 Judicaël Cancoriet, 7 Alexandre Fischer, 8 Fritz Lee.

Replacements: 16 Etienne Fourcade, 17 Daniel Bibi Biziwu, 18 Rabah Slimani, 19 Paul Jedrasiak, 20 Thibaud Lanen, 21 Arthur Iturria, 22 Sébastien Bézy, 23 Tim Nanai-Williams.

Toulouse: 15 Maxime Médard, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Zack Holmes, 12 Pita Ahki, 11 Matthis Lebel, 10 Romain Ntamack, 9 Antoine Dupont, 1 Cyril Baille, 2 Julien Marchand (c), 3 Charlie Faumuina, 4 Rory Arnold, 5 Richie Arnold, 6 Selevasio Tolofua, 7 Francois Cros, 8 Jerome Kaino.

Replacements: 16 Peato Mauvaka, 17 Clément Castets, 18 Dorian Aldegheri, 19 Joe Tekori, 20 Thibaud Flament, 21 Alban Placines, 22 Baptiste Germain, 23 Yoann Huget.

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