Interview: BT Sport ambassador Austin Healey
15th April 2015
With live coverage of the European Rugby Champions Cup Semi-Finals coming up this weekend as Clermont Auvergne face Saracens and Toulon take on Leinster, Sports4Bars talks to BT Sport ambassador Austin Healey about these two massive games
There's a huge weekend of European rugby coming up this weekend and BT Sport ambassador Austin Healey – himself a two-time winner of the European Cup with Leicester Tigers – is tipping Saracens and Leinster to cause twin upsets to beat their French opponents and reach the European Rugby Champions Cup Final at Twickenham on May 2.
“If you look at Clermont's record against Saracens, the past two occasions have been victories for Saracens, and when Sarries went over to them and lost, it was not by much so I think Clermont will be a little bit nervy in facing Saracens. Admittedly, Clermont played amazingly well against Northampton in the 37-5 quarter-final win and have a star turn in Englishman abroad Nick Abendanon. He's top of most of the stats counts – he's making loads of metres and scored a try against Sarries last time.
“They have several threats, not least French international winger Noa Nakaitaci who Chris Ashton will have to contain. If he does that, Ashton will do his England chances a lot of good because Anthony Watson really struggled with him defensively during the Six Nations game at Twickenham back in March.
“But I just think that Sarries will perform very well in France and could cause what many would see as an upset. It's likely that Owen Farrell will come back to the bench but the Saracens backline has been playing pretty well. The coach, Mark McCall, has got some decisions to make regarding selection.
“USA international Chris Wyles can play pretty much anywhere across the backline, apart from 9 and 10, and has been playing very well and scoring a lot of tries; David Strettle and Ashton are the first-choice wingers with Alex Goode at fullback; centre Brad Barritt is back from injury, which is great news for Sarries, particularly in defensive terms; and Richard Wigglesworth and Charlie Hodgson will be the starting half-back combination.
“Then there's Marcelo Bosch, who put over the winning kick in the dying moments of the quarter-final to clinch victory over Racing Metro. Who do you leave out? Some tough, tough selection decisions are going to have to be made before Saturday.”
And, of course, Sarries fans will be breathing a large sigh of relief at the news that No.8 Billy Vunipola's citing for a headbutt in last weekend's Aviva Premiership tie against Leicester Tigers has been dismissed – a decision that Healey wholeheartedly backs.
“If Vunipola had been banned for what he did – essentially clearing out at a ruck – Saracens would have felt very aggrieved,” says Healey. “If you look at the footage, he's looking at the floor, and therefore there's no intent when he made contact with Matt Tait of Leicester. Really, the game has gone a bit overboard in terms of discipline recently and some of the citings are ridiculous.
“It's a sport where people are colliding with each other and accidents happen. Obviously you want some degree of protection and you don't want people to get hurt but essentially players are going to get injured. All players will get injured at some stage, hopefully not too seriously. It's clear that there needs to be a comprehensive overhaul of the citing procedure and also the banning protocols.”
And so to the second semi-final of the weekend as mighty French powerhouse Toulon – in search of their third-successive European crown – take on three-time champions Leinster at Stade Vélodrome in Marseille on Sunday.
Toulon didn't have it all their own way in their 32-18 quarter-final win over Wasps and Healey believes that Leinster could have the necessary grit to dump the reigning champions out of the competition.
“The news that Leigh Halfpenny is a doubt for Toulon will really play into Leinster's hands,” says Healey. “If he doesn't recover from his shoulder injury, they can go out there and really compete for the ball just inside their own half at the breakdown knowing that if they do give away a penalty there's not a 100 per cent chance that Toulon will be able to convert it into points, as would have been the case with Halfpenny on the field.
“And Leinster have their own kicking machine in the form of fly-half Ian Madigan. He's scored 98 points so far in the competition making him the top scorer by quite a margin, so he will be a key man for Leinster.
“I really fancy Leinster for this one. Wasps gave Toulon a real runaround in the quarter-final and if Wasps had not been missing backrower Nathan Hughes, I reckon they might have won that game. Leinster will have done plenty of analysis of the Toulon side and I'm very optimistic for their chances. So, I'm tipping an Anglo-Irish Final at Twickenham of Leinster v Saracens.
“Whatever the results though, this weekend will see some superb rugby and I'm sure there will be a fantastic atmosphere in all the pubs which show the games.”
Watch Clermont Auvergne v Saracens exclusively live on BT Sport 1 this Saturday from 2.30pm. BT Sport is the only place to watch top live matches from the European Rugby Champions Cup, Challenge Cup and Aviva Premiership
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