Clermont are planning a Sunday night Christmas cracker in the Top 14, pitting the suspension-free Sebastien Vahaamahina against the World Cup-winning Eben Etzebeth in his first match since his quarter-final red card in Japan.

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Vahaamahina gained notoriety across the rugby world when he was sent off for sickeningly elbowing Wales’ Aaron Wainwright in the face during a second-half maul in Oita. 

The 49th minute moment of madness cost France dearly as, a man-down, they were unable to hold onto the lead that would have qualified them for a semi-final clash with South Africa. 

Vahaamahina reacted by calling time on his Test level career and having since served a six-week suspension for the incident, he is now set to play his first match in what is sure to be a lively atmosphere at Stade Mayol. 

While there must be a temptation to ease Vahaamahina back onto the pitch by picking him for a home match the following week, injuries mean that Clermont are short of locks this weekend and their boss Franck Azema doesn’t sound hesitant about pitching him in against Toulon and Etzebeth. 

(Continue reading below…)

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“This gesture [red card] will count in his journey, but Sebastien quickly managed to step back, especially by spending a lot of time in contact with his family,” explained Azema to Midi Olympique, the bi-weekly French rugby newspaper.

“This experience, as bad as it may be, must serve him well but I believe that it has not fundamentally changed him. He is an honest and upright boy in his every day life and in the field, he is anything but rotten! 

“When I look at it today, I don’t see someone bruised. During this period, I appreciated that he stayed in contact with the group. For example, he invested a lot to help his partners in preparation for matches.

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“This period far from the field will have been beneficial to him, I am sure. We accompanied him a lot, but we also gave him time to relax with his family.

“Finally, he had time to deal with all those little wounds that he dragged along for a long time and that required either rest or small interventions. It’s good that he took the opportunity to clear it all out.”

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