Ahead of this weekend's Champions Cup semi-finals, Jack D'Arcy takes a look at the key statistics from the tournament to date
Let’s get down to brass tacks – just 14 of the 38 European Cup semi-finals have been won by the away team. Furthermore French teams boast a 60% success rate at this stage of the competition. The signs do not bode well for travelling supporters. But Leinster know what it takes to emerge victorious from an away semi-final famously beating Clermont in Bordeaux in 2012. And surely if anything can put an end to Clermont’s hopes of a first title it’s the pragmatic approach of Saracens? We take a look at some of the key statistics ahead of this weekend’s Champions Cup semi-finals…
Clermont Auvergne v Saracens
Due to the exploits of Nick Abendanon, Clermont have made more metres (3339m) than any other side in the Champions Cup. The former Bath player has flourished for the French club this season swerving and side-stepping his way to 716m at an average of 8.5m per carry. Saracen’s full-back Alex Goode lies in second place in the metres gained table making 471m at 5.9m per carry. The sides have already met twice in the pool stages with the home side taking the spoils on each occassion. Abendanon’s performance in France, however, was notable with the full-back scoring one try and making 134m through four clean breaks.
Abendanon also leads the defenders beaten chart with 28 and is almost certainly in the running for Player of the Tournament. However Saracens fans will be relieved they have their own strike runner to call upon after Billy Vunipola was cleared of striking Leicester full-back Mathew Tait with his head. Vunipola is the blunt-force trauma to Abendanon’s guile and has managed to get past, or rather through, 21 opponents this tournament. No other forward left in the competition has beaten more men and the No 8 is an offensive menace, carrying the ball 84 times and making 12 offloads.
Vunipola also remains at the forefront of his side’s defence with only hooker Jamie George stopping more adversaries (86). Incidentally the match will see four of tournament’s ten highest tacklers line up in Saint Etienne. The last meeting between the two proved to be a claustrophobic affair with each side tussling for territory and it is unlikely this fixture will be any different. In that game Brad Barritt made more tackles (12) than Owen Farrell, David Strettle, Chris Wyles and Chris Ashton combined. The defensive general will be crucial in quelling the yellow tide of Napolioni Nalaga, Wesley Fofana, Noa Nakaitaci and Abendanon, who all tormented Northampton in the last round.
Toulon v Leinster
The only player left in the tournament to have made more clean breaks than Bryan Habana is Nick Abendanon (11). The South African has broken defensive shackles no less than eight times this term but turnovers have crept into the evergreen wing’s game. Habana has conceded possession more than any other player in this season’s Champions Cup yet remains joint third in the try-scoring charts, crossing the white line four times. Isolating the winger in the wide channels to force turnovers could be a lucrative ploy for Leinster – but one that few would dare to attempt.
Victory in France may well come down to Leinster’s ability to smother opposition ball. Toulon’s squad is awash with explosive carriers in the form of Steffon Armitage, Mathieu Bastareaud and Chris Masoe to name but a few. The French side have made the most carries (851), the most offloads (121) and scored the most points (213) this season. Maxime Mermoz, Juan Smith and Bastareaud are three of the top ten offloaders in the tournament. Conversely only Treviso (4.8) have averaged fewer offloads per game than Leinster (5.3) this season. Negating Toulon’s offloading threats by employing the choke tackle must be a part of a wizened Leinster pack’s game plan if they are to advance to the final.
While Ian Madigan remains at the top of the point-scoring tree this season (98), his defence was found wanting in the quarter-final against Bath. The centre missed five tackles when faced with a midfield duo of Kyle Eastmond and Jonathan Joseph. To Madigan’s credit he did make more tackles than any of his team-mates (10) but a completion rate of just 66% will need to be improved upon to halt the prowess of Mermoz and Bastareaud. Conversely Bastareaud has missed just two tackles all tournament and contributed a staggering seven turnovers from midfield.
Clermont v Saracens, Sat 18 April, Saint Etienne, 3.15pm
Toulon v Leinster, Sun 19 April, Marseille, 3.15pm