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Clermont Auvergne 15 Leinster 19: Holders make Heineken Cup final all-Irish affair

Clermont Auvergne 15 Leinster 19: Holders make Heineken final an all-Irish affair

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UPDATED:

16:51 GMT, 29 April 2012

Defending champions Leinster set up an all-Irish Heineken Cup final after surviving a late onslaught from Clermont Auvergne during which Wesley Fofana dramatically had a try ruled out for the French side.

Joe Schmidt's side started the game well but with their lineout malfunctioning, four penalties from Brock James saw the French challengers lead 12-6 at half-time.

Yet Leinster got the perfect start to the second half when Brian O'Driscoll and Rob Kearney combined to set up Cian Healy for a 42nd-minute try.

Final hurdle: Leinster players celebrate their progress

Final hurdle: Leinster players celebrate their progress

A stunning Kearney drop goal extended Leinster's lead before James replied. Jonathan Sexton's third penalty put Leinster 19-15 in front before Clermont centre Fofana was inches away from scoring the match-winning try.

This pulsating semi-final finished with Clermont pounding the Leinster line but the Irish side showed immense resilience to hold on and set up a meeting with Ulster at Twickenham on May 19.

After a typically frenetic opening, Leinster struck first in the eighth minute. Some quick offloading got Leinster into the Clermont 22 for the first time and the hosts were punished for offside as the onrushing Isa Nacewa accepted a pass out wide from Sexton. The fly-half slotted the penalty over to give the province the early advantage.

Some ferocious work by Leinster was resulting in turnover ball and Clermont suffered another blow when winger Julien Malzieu was forced off through injury after 13 minutes.

Familiar: Leinster will face Ulster in the final

Familiar: Leinster will face Ulster in the final

There was a superb atmosphere in the
Stade Chaban-Delmas, although the Irish support was vastly outnumbered
in the near 33,000 crowd. But competing in their fourth successive
semi-final, Leinster's experience was showing in the early stages.

More quick hands from the Leinster back-line led to another break for Nacewa that had Clermont scrambling to clear from behind their own posts.

But Clermont's defence held firm and James took the chance to tie things up at 3-3 from a penalty.

That lifted the 2010 French champions and only a fantastic intervention by Luke Fitzgerald denied full-back Lee /04/29/article-2136962-12D54780000005DC-12_468x286.jpg” width=”468″ height=”286″ alt=”Well done: Leinster's Fergus McFadden (right), and Rob Kearney get the celebrations underway” class=”blkBorder” />

Well done: Leinster's Fergus McFadden (right), and Rob Kearney get the celebrations underway

The interval clearly came at a good time for the defending champions though as they responded just after the restart with the opening try.

With their lineout working for once, O'Driscoll and Kearney punched a hole through the Clermont defence to give Healy an easy run-in. Sexton converted and Leinster were a point ahead.

Four minutes later they went 16-12 in front when the increasingly influential Kearney produced a stunning drop goal from over 45 metres out.

James then missed a drop goal and a penalty in quick succession before another penalty from the Australian made it 16-15 after 52 minutes.

Both sides emptied their benches in an attempt to force a decisive shift in momentum and O'Driscoll almost delivered it after finding space to feed Kearney.

Although Leinster were held up a few metres out, Clermont had infringed and Sexton kicked over from a tricky angle outside the 22 to make it 19-15 with 17 minutes left.

Stunner: Kearney scored a brilliant drop goal

Stunner: Kearney scored a brilliant drop goal

Leinster appeared to be getting stronger as the game went on but after Sexton missed another penalty attempt there was to be a further twist as Clermont's forwards pushed for a winning try.

Fofana appeared to have got it with seconds remaining but after television match official Geoff Warren reviewed the footage, the try was ruled out for a knock on. The French international fumbled the ball forward under pressure from Gordon D'Arcy's last-ditch tackle.

Clermont had another five-metre scrum before the end but Leinster, backing their spirited defence, somehow escaped to move a step closer to back-to-back European titles and their third success in four years.

Saracens yet to release Andy Farrell to England

Sarries in no rush to release Farrell to England until compensation is agreed

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UPDATED:

21:30 GMT, 4 April 2012

The RFU’s attempts to recruit Andy Farrell as part of England’s management remains unresolved as Saracens indicated they had not yet received a suitable offer to release their head coach.

With the Aviva Premiership champions preparing for a heavyweight Heineken Cup quarter-final showdown against Clermont Auvergne at Vicarage Road on Sunday, the club are determined to finalise negotiations with the union at the earliest opportunity.

While Saracens are more or less resigned to losing the former Great Britain rugby league captain, they will not free Farrell from his long-term contract without adequate compensation from Twickenham.

Waiting game: Andy Farrell of Saracens is wanted by England

Waiting game: Andy Farrell of Saracens is wanted by England

Stuart Lancaster, installed as the
long-term England head coach, wants to retain the cross-code
international as one of his assistants.

Saracens chief executive Edward Griffiths said: ‘We are in contact and we are eager to bring it to a conclusion. But there is a process. We don’t control that process.

‘There is some uncertainty and uncertainty can be a distraction, especially in a week like this ahead of a big game. It is similar to the distraction that Spurs have encountered with Harry Redknapp, so we’re anxious to avoid that. But there’s not an awful lot you can do about that. I don’t think it has had any effect on the team this week. It genuinely hasn’t. It’s just not been spoken about.

Dream team: Stuart Lancaster (centre) wants Farrell in his set-up

Dream team: Stuart Lancaster (centre) wants Farrell in his set-up

‘The default position is that Andy is a Saracens coach. If someone wants to make something happen then the onus is on them.’

Bath meanwhile confirmed that their director of rugby, Sir Ian McGeechan, would be leaving the club at the end of the season.

Sale have confirmed that they will be based at the new, 12,000-capacity Salford City Stadium from next season, in a ground-share arrangement with Salford City Reds rugby league team.

Alex King: The insider – French danger men for England

Alex King: The insider – French danger men for England

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UPDATED:

23:38 GMT, 8 March 2012

Alex King, former Wasps fly-half and now assistant coach at Clermont Auvergne, gives the inside track on France's danger men ahead of Le Crunch in Paris on Sunday…

Wesley Fofana Centre, Clermont Auvergne, Age: 24, Caps: 3
X-factor: Wesley Fofana of France

X-factor: Wesley Fofana of France

Wesley took his chance when the France regulars were away at the World Cup last autumn and has not looked back since – three tries in three games is quite a start to his international career. He's worked incredibly hard at his game, he's very powerful and his attitude is spot on. He came to the club on Monday and warned me he is going to score two more against England. When he arrived here at 18 he was a bit overweight but the academy system at the club has brought him through all that. He's got the X-factor and has the ability to change a game through a big tackle, kick-and-chase or a line break. He's got all the skills.

Julien Dupuy Scrum-half, Stade Francais, Age: 28, Caps: 7

He's a scrum-half who I really rate. An opportunist who is always on the look-out for an opening, as Leicester found to their benefit when he played a full season in England. Has the ability to make a break out of nothing.

Julien Bonnaire Flanker, Clermont Auvergne, Age: 33, Caps: 73

Julien returned very frustrated after the World Cup and has had the honesty to say that this could well be his last Six Nations. He's a very good line-out technician and is very strong and a versatile back-rower. He has become very important for both us and France.

Julien Malzieu Wing, Clermont Auvergne, Age: 28, Caps: 19
Julien Malzieu of France (right)

Powerful: Julien Malzieu of France (right)

'Zen' has come back to top form after one or two injuries last season. He was very disappointed to miss out on the World Cup and has a point or two to prove now that he's back in the squad. He's very powerful and is an extremely good finisher.

Clement Poitrenaud Full back, Toulouse, Age: 29, Caps: 45

Poitrenaud must be one player England will be looking at targeting. A great attacker and exciting player but also one who can make mistakes. England will look to put him under pressure from the word go.

Aurelien Rougerie Centre, Clermont Auvergne, Age: 31, Caps: 74

'Ro-Ro' is a legend. He is our figurehead. He's become a very experienced guy who has been there and done it. Centre has become his position, which enables him to get into the game and to use his physicality. He was a bit quiet against Ireland and so will be ready for a big show.

France v Ireland: Clement Poitrenaud and Julien Bonnaire called up

France bring Poitrenaud and Bonnaire into side for rearranged Ireland clash

France team to play Ireland

C Poitrenaud (Toulouse);
V Clerc (Toulouse), A Rougerie (Clermont Auvergne), W Fofana (Clermont
Auvergne), J Malzieu (Clermont Auvergne); F Trinh-Duc (Montpellier), M
Parra (Clermont Auvergne); J-B Poux (Toulouse), D Szarzewski (Stade
Francais), N Mas (Perpignan), P Pape (Stade Francais), Y Maestri
(Toulouse), T Dusautoir (Toulouse, capt), J Bonnaire (Clermont
Auvergne), I Harinordoquy (Biarritz).

Replacements: W Servat (Toulouse), V
Debaty (Clermont Auvergne), L Nallet (Racing Metro), L Picamoles
(Toulouse), J Dupuy (Stade Francais), L Beauxis (Toulouse), M Mermoz
(Perpignan).

France have made two changes to the side
that beat Scotland last time out for their rearranged RBS 6 Nations
game with Ireland on Sunday.

Les Bleus coach Philippe Saint-Andre announced on Monday Clement Poitrenaud had been called up to replace Maxime Medard for the game at the Stade de France after the full-back was ruled out with a knee injury picked up in the 23-17 win over Scotland.

Recalled: France forward Julien Bonnaire (right) will play on the flank

Recalled: France forward Julien Bonnaire (right) will play on the flank

The other change sees flanker Julien
Bonnaire replace No 8 Louis Picamoles. The move will see Imanol
Harinordoquy shift from the flank to fill in at No 8.

The match in Paris had originally been scheduled for February 11 but was postponed just before kick-off due to a frozen pitch.

Cover: Full-back Clement Poitrenaud (centre) replaces Maxime Medard

Cover: Full-back Clement Poitrenaud (centre) replaces Maxime Medard

Heineken Cup quarter-final draw

Saracens to host Clermont Auvergne in Heineken Cup quarter-final

Aviva Premiership champions Saracens have been rewarded for topping their Heineken Cup group with a quarter-final home draw against French side Clermont Auvergne.

Saracens are the only English side left in the competition after they confirmed their passage through the group stages with a narrow win at Treviso on Sunday.

Home draw: Saracens will host French side Clermont

Home draw: Saracens will host French side Clermont

Elsewhere, Ulster travel to Munster for an all-Irish affair, holders Leinster host Cardiff Blues, and Edinburgh will welcome French giants Toulouse.

Saracens will face the winner of Leinster v Cardiff Blues if they can overcome Clermont.

The Amlin Challenge Cup draw has set up three mouth-watering Anglo-French affairs.

Exeter travel to Stade Francais, Wasps host Biarritz, and Harlequins will travel to Jonny Wilkinson's Toulon in what is arguably the tie of the round.

Heineken Cup draw

Quarter-finals: Munster v Ulster, Leinster v Cardiff Blues, Edinburgh v Toulouse, Saracens v Clermont Auvergne.

Ties to be played April 6-8.

Semi-finals: Saracens or Clermont Auvergne v Leinster or Cardiff Blues, Munster or Ulster v Edinburgh or Toulouse.

Ties to be played April 27-29.

Amlin Challenge Cup draw

Quarter-finals: Stade Francais v Exeter, Brive v Scarlets, Toulon v Harlequins, Wasps v Biarritz.

Ties to be played April 6-8.

Semi-finals: Toulon or Harlequins v Stade Francais or Exeter, Wasps or Biarritz v Brive or Scarlets.

Ties to be played April 27-29.

Six Nations: Westley Fofana and Yoann Maestri in France squad

Fofana and Maestri named in French squad for Six Nations

Westley Fofana and Yoann Maestri were named in France's provisional squad for the Six Nations on Thursday.

Clermont Auvergne centre Fofana and Toulouse lock Maestri are rewarded for their outstanding club form, while Philippe Saint-Andre has also recalled several players deemed surplus to requirements by his predecessor Marc Lievremont.

In the squad: Toulouse lock Yoann Maestri

In the squad: Toulouse lock Yoann Maestri

Among them are the Toulouse trio of Clement Poitrenaud, Lionel Beauxis and Yannick Nyanga. Fly-half Beauxis last played for Les Bleus in 2009, while flanker Nyanga has not featured since the 2007 World Cup.

However, there is no place for centre Mathieu Bastareaud or scrum-half Julien Dupuy.

'Yannick Nyanga has been outstanding for Toulouse since the start of the season,' Saint-Andre said. 'We want to have a look at Fofana, he has physical attributes of the very highest level.'

Ringing the changes: Philippe Saint-Andre

Ringing the changes: Philippe Saint-Andre

Saint-Andre was in the crowd two weeks ago when the 26-year-old Beauxis kicked 28 points – including three drop goals – in a win against Montpellier. He felt it was impossible to leave Beauxis out given his recent performances.

'He's scored 55 points in the last two games,' Saint-Andre said. 'He did everything a great flyhalf can do in that game against Montpellier, dummies, surging runs… he's a player who played in the (2007) World Cup and is still very young. He's coming back after a few injuries.'

Former Sale, Gloucester and Toulon coach Saint-Andre has retained 22 of the squad that reached the World Cup final in October and the exceptional Toulouse flanker Thierry Dusautoir, the IRB World Player of the Year, will retain the captaincy.

The squad will be put through their paces during a three-day training camp later this month ahead of their tournament opener against Italy in Paris on Saturday, February 4.

Provisional 30-man squad for the Six Nations:

France: Forwards: Vincent Debaty, Nicolas Mas, Fabien Barcella, Luc Ducalcon, Jean-Baptiste Poux, William Servat, Dimitri Szarzewski, Pascal Pape, Yoann Maestri, Romain Millo-Chluski, Julien Pierre, Julien Bonnaire, Yannick Nyanga, Thierry Dusautoir, Fulgence Ouedraogo, Louis Picamoles, Imanol Harinordoquy.

Backs: Morgan Parra, Dimitri Yachvili, Francois Trinh-Duc, Lionel Beauxis, Maxime Mermoz, Aurelien Rougerie, Yann David, Wesley Fofana, Maxime Medard, Vincent Clerc, Alexis Palisson, Julien Malzieu, Clement Poitrenaud.

Leicester centre Manu Tuilagi: I won"t be stupid again!

I won”t be stupid again! England bad-boy Tuilagi vows to do right thing after World Cup shame

Rocky ride: Manu Tuilagi has hit the headlines on and off the pitch

Rocky ride: Manu Tuilagi has hit the headlines on and off the pitch

Manu Tuilagi has vowed to avoid further trouble after an “awesome and hectic” first year in professional rugby.

Tuilagi has gone from Leicester”s academy team to be first-choice centre for England and gained notoriety along the way. Diving from a ferry in Auckland harbour, following England”s defeat by France in the World Cup quarter-final, earned him a 3,000 fine and a warning from then manager Martin Johnson.

“It was a stupid thing to do and I have let everyone down,” the 20-year-old admitted.

“I apologised and I am now looking forward to playing. I just want to work hard and do the right things.

“It seems like only yesterday that I was playing for the academy. It”s taken off quicker than expected. I wanted to get in the Leicester team at first, but I then got picked for the Saxons and the full England team. I”ve now got to stay fit and play well for Leicester.”

His return for Leicester after the World Cup was curtailed when he broke his cheekbone, against Gloucester, in his first club match.

Awesome: Tuilagi has enjoyed a meteoric rise

Awesome: Tuilagi has enjoyed a meteoric rise

That injury put him out for seven weeks and he could easily have spent further time suspended if Leicester officials had not stopped him running towards a touchline brawl, involving his brother Alesana, in the Premiership match against Northampton last month.

“I was the peacemaker,” Tuilagi insisted. “I wanted to make sure Alesana was OK.” He showed signs of his best form in last Saturday”s Heineken Cup win over Clermont Auvergne, scoring a crucial try in the 23-19 win.

“It”s a really good feeling to be back, because it”s been really frustrating as it”s the longest I have been out of the game,” Tuilagi added.

England coaches John Wells and Mike Ford have agreed severance deals. Both are looking for new roles after being part of the England coaching team at the last two World Cups.

Jonny Wilkinson inspired me to be a perfect 10, admits Toby Flood

Wilkinson inspired me to be a perfect 10, admits England rival Flood

Toby Flood starts a new era of keeping the wolves at bay rather than chasing his friend and rival Jonny Wilkinson.

Wilkinson”s decision to quit Test rugby should leave Flood England”s undisputed No 10, but that is not howthe modest Leicester playmaker views the run-up to the Six Nations.

He starts the Tigers” crucial Heineken Cup game at home against Clermont Auvergne on Saturday accepting that Wilkinson”s departure has served to heighten the pressureon him.

Team spirit: Wilkinson and Flood

Team spirit: Wilkinson and Flood

Flood has dubbed his rivals “wolves” and believes he will have to fend off the likes of Saracens” Charlie Hodgson and the Northampton pair of Stephen Myler and Ryan Lamb to keep hold of the England shirt.

“For me the departure of Jonny heightens the sense of responsibility and the need to improve,” said Flood. “The pressure will come from below, because you are now not trying to follow somebody, but trying to keep the wolves from the door. There are a lot of guys playing some good stuff which keeps you on your toes.”

Flood, 26, was among Newcastle”s youth players when Wilkinson was at his zenith in the build-up to England”s 2003 World Cup triumph.

The way he trained and perfected his goal-kicking left a huge impression on Flood and others coming through the Newcastle system led by Mathew Tait, Jamie Noon, Tom May and Phil Dowson. “I think you would have been daft not to have gained something from him,” said Flood.

“When I was 16 or 17 and he was top of the world he had a huge influence. He could have led a celebratory lifestyle, but he just shut up shop and got on with his day job. As a younger man who saw what he was doing it made you put in the same amount of training. You were always trying to get to his level.”

The Tigers lost 30-12 to Clermont in France last Sunday, when Flood missed two kicks. It was a frustrating afternoon for Leicester, who fell away after Manu Tuilagi and George Chuter were sin-binned in the 49th minute for dangerous tackles.

“We were in the game but found ourselves chasing very quickly,” said Flood. “But we know we have the ability to turn the screw on them.”

Clermont Auvergne 30 Leicester 12: Tigers left to rue indiscipline

Clermont Auvergne 30 Leicester 12: Fofana at the double as Tigers lose unbeaten record

Former European champions Leicester surrendered their unbeaten record in this season”s Heineken Cup, and their position at the top of Pool Four, to Clermont Auvergne.

Leicester were second best for most of the game and now need to win the return clash at Welford Road next weekend.

At full stretch: Fofana scores a try for the home side

At full stretch: Fofana scores a try for the home side

The Tigers, who had won their previous two pool games against Italian outfit Aironi and Ulster, paid a heavy price for their own indiscipline.

Hooker George Chuter and England centre Manu Tuilagi were both sin-binned in the 50th minute for dangerous play, leaving the Tigers with 13-men for 10 minutes.

Stiff word: Leicester centre Tuilagi is sent to the sin bin

Stiff word: Leicester centre Tuilagi is sent to the sin bin

Clermont made the most of their two-man advantage to record their 35th consecutive home victory in front of a partisan 18,000 crowd at the intimidating Stade Marcel Michelin.

Leicester scored the first try of the game totally against the run of play when Clermont”s fly-half Brock James had his grubber kick charged down.

Toby Flood”s fly-hack deep into Clermont”s territory created confusion in the home side”s defence and saw scrum-half Ben Youngs run in at the corner to give the visitors an improbable 5-3 lead.

Brutal: Leicester were punished for their indiscipline throughout the match

Brutal: Leicester were punished for their indiscipline throughout the match

Scrum-half Morgan Parra calmed the home side”s nerves when he slotted over his second and third penalties to reclaim the lead midway through the first half.

The home side then stretched their lead when burly wing Julien Malzieu barged his way through some weak tackling and crashed over from short range to make it 16-5 at half-time.

After the break the Tigers were under extreme pressure and lost two players to yellow cards, hooker Chuter and centre Tuilagi, for dangerous play.

Down an out: Flood and Co were left to reflect on a disappointing afternoon

Down an out: Flood and Co were left to reflect on a disappointing afternoon

The pair were punished for high tackles on Para and Vincent Debaty respectively in the same attacking move and the Tigers never recovered. Clermont turned the screw when impressive centre Wesley Fofana crossed for the French side”s second try midway through the second half.

Fofana rubbed salt into the wounds with his second try before the visitors were awarded a consolation penalty try after Clermont collapsed a scrum in the shadow of their own posts.