Having made it to three Heineken Champions Cup finals and come away as runners-up on all occasions, there are few teams who are as rooted for by neutral fans as Clermont Auvergne.
The two-time winners of France’s top domestic competition have also fallen short a remarkable 12 times in the Top 14 or its predecessors, and it’s those narrow misses that pull at fans’ heartstrings and see any and all success by Les Jaunards so eagerly celebrated.
This summer has proven one of significant change at the Marcel Michelin stadium, however, as the club have said goodbye to a number of stalwart servants.
Hooker Benjamin Kayser has hung up his boots after eight seasons with the club, whilst South African lock Flip van der Merwe has also called time on his professional career. Damien Chouly (Perpignan) and Rémi Lamerat (Bordeaux) have left the club, too, with a number of spots in the regular matchday 23 set to open up.
Throw into the mix the losses of players such as Damian Penaud, Camille Lopez and Rabah Slimani to France at the Rugby World Cup, and it’s going to be a relatively new-look Clermont side to start the season.
Once they are back, though, the men in yellow have assembled quite the squad to make a run on the Top 14 and Champions Cup titles in 2019/20. We take a look at their strongest XV below.
- Isaia Toeava
The former All Black brings plenty of experience to the role of full-back, as does alternative Nick Abendanon. Either way, Clermont have a safe pair of hands at the back who can easily launch promising counter-attacks if given the opportunity.
- Damian Penaud
The centre has taken well to his new role on the wing and although he faced his fair share of troubles with France during the Guinness Six Nations, he lit up club rugby for Clermont last season.
- George Moala
Another former All Black, Moala established himself as a versatile player at the Blues before he headed to France last year. Whether at 13 or on the wing, Moala adds attacking firepower to the Clermont XV and helps make up for the loss of Lamerat with his versatility. JJ Engelbrecht will help provide competition, having signed on a short-term deal.
- Wesley Fofana
Fofana will be hanging up his international boots after the Rugby World Cup, which his club will hope means he spends less time on the treatment table and more time on the pitch.
- Alivereti Raka
The Fijian-born wing is a powerhouse with the ball in hand and has spearheaded Clermont’s excellent and clinical play out wide over the last few years. The likes of Peter Betham, Rémy Grosso and Tim Nanai-Williams are also available to the club, as is budding Spanish talent Samuel Ezeala.
- Camille Lopez
Long-established as Clermont’s number one fly-half, Lopez will resume those duties after the Rugby World Cup. Jake McIntyre has been brought in, potentially allowing for Nanai-Williams to be used elsewhere and not as heavily relied on as the back-up fly-half.
- Morgan Parra
Another familiar name in the Clermont XV, Parra will continue his competition with Greig Laidlaw for the starting nine jersey and provide plenty of experience and leadership as the team’s petit general. Rudy Paige has been signed on a short-term deal and will feature heavily during the first couple of months of the season.
- Étienne Falgoux
Falgoux has moved into selection consideration for Les Bleus of late and being an important component in the ever-formidable Clermont pack has been a big part of that. Beka Kakabadze is pushing hard behind him in the depth chart.
- John Ulugia
This is where it gets interesting. At 33 years of age, Ulugia might be a surprising choice, but he was consistent as Kayser’s deputy last season and would seem to be the next man up in the Clermont XV. Portugal international Mike Tadjer has been brought in from Grenoble this summer and should provide competition, as could Yohan Beheregaray.
- Rabah Slimani
The tighthead is an incumbent for both France and Clermont and is one of the most adept scrummaging props currently playing the game. Even at 35, Davit Zirakashvili remains another extremely formidable option.
- Sébastien Vahaamahina
The giant lock has established himself as one of the first names on the Clermont teamsheet over the past couple of seasons and his consistency at the highest club and international levels has improved significantly.
- Sitaleki Timani
The loss of van der Merwe denies Clermont some measure of experience in the engine room, although Timani provides plenty of his own. Paul Jedrasiak is another option and one that brings international class.
- Arthur Iturria
If not deployed in the second row, a spot on the flank has to be found for Iturria, who had an excellent 2018/19 season and was one of the more impressive performers domestically and internationally in France.
- Judicaël Cancoriet
Another player off of the RC Massy production line, Cancoriet and Iturria are the new faces of this Clermont pack, following the departures of Julien Bonnaire and Julien Bardy in recent seasons, as well as Chouly’s move to Perpignan this year. Alexandre Lapandry will rotate into the back row, too.
- Peceli Yato
It’s an impressive feat to keep Fritz Lee out of the Clermont XV, with the New Zealander having been one of the club’s most consistent players in recent years. The Fijian offers just a little more explosion, though, and gets the nod based on that.
Watch: Foden: Stateside
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