Saracens wary of Sivivatu in Heineken Cup Semi

Former All Black Sitiveni Sivivatu has been identified as Clermont’s dangerman by Saracens coach Mark McCall in their Heineken Cup Semi-final Twickenham on Saturday.

Although it is nearly three years since Sivivatu won the last of his 45 All Blacks caps, the 32-year-old Fiji-born wing remains one of the most potent attacking threats in European rugby.

“You wouldn’t concentrate on one person but if someone is going to pull a rabbit out of a hat it’s going to be Sivivatu,” said McCall.

“He is amazing. He’s got the most metres and offloads in the Heineken (European) Cup and he pops up where you least expect him.

“If you switch off for just one second and you don’t stay alive and in the moment, he will hurt you.

“They (Clermont) have got a few players like that, but he’s the one who can hurt you big-time.”

Two years ago Clermont arrived at Saracens’ then home ground in Watford and thrashed their opponents 22-3 in a lopsided European Cup quarter-final.

McCall was also in charge of the side for that match and hasn’t forgotten the experience.

“We would hold our hands up and say that day was a little ‘men against boys,” he recalled.

“We felt we were playing with one hand tied behind our back, we were a bit lightweight and we changed a lot after that.”

Nevertheless, French clubs have proved something of a thorn in the side of Saracens, currently nine points clear at the top of the English Premiership.

Last season they lost 24-12 to eventual European champions Toulon in the semi-finals, with England great Jonny Wilkinson kicking all of the French team’s points.

And this term they were twice beaten by Toulouse in the pool stages.

However, defiant former Ireland centre McCall said: “The Toulon semi last year, they didn’t score a try that day, and we had an opportunity after half-time.

“We definitely had progressed from the Clermont game to that, and we feel we are in a much better position 12 months later now.

“I know how far we’ve come. It’s obvious. It was men against boys last time (against Clermont); it’s not going to be like that this weekend.”

Clermont have won an astonishing 76 consecutive home games but have proved far more fallible away from their Parc des Sports Marcel Michelin fortress, having lost nine away matches in the French Top 14 alone this season.

“Domestically they are like other teams, they have lost six or seven in a row away,” said McCall.

“But look at their European record away, it’s pretty special. They have travelled well and they bring their A-game to these occasions.”

However, like Saracens, Clermont — who lost by just a point to Toulon in last season’s final — have yet to win the European Cup.

“Clermont have been in the knockout stages of this competition for seven years and have never won it,” said McCall. “And they’ve only won the Top 14 once (in 2010).

“I think that if they get a lead, they are very good at holding you at arm’s length by playing a certain way and I think you’ve got to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Clermont suffered a setback Friday when captain Aurelien Rougerie was finally ruled out with a hamstring injury after failing to train fully during the week.

Benson Stanley took his place in midfield, alongside France star Wesley Fofana.

Elsewhere behind the scrum, former Wales full-back Lee Byrne and Sivivatu were both included after missing the 22-16 quarter-final win over English champions Leicester.

Byrne, wing Napolioni Nalaga and forwards Davit Zirakashvili and Jamie Cudmore have all returned after missing last week’s 22-6 Top 14 defeat at Racing-Metro.

Meanwhile France flanker Julien Bonnaire has replaced Rougerie as Clermont captain.

Bonnaire will be a member of the same back row that started the match against Leicester after New Zealander Fritz Lee (knee) and Damien Chouly (shoulder) were both given the all-clear.


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