By Aidan Elder | Chief sports writer
No Irish or English interest makes the Heineken Cup more disappointing than anything 2Unlimited have done after 1993, but it’s still going to a fascinating game between two European powerhouses. The money-bags of Clermont take on the slightly bigger money-bags of Toulon and there’s more than enough English and global superstars involved to make it interesting. Here’s a run-down of five or so bets worth having based on some questionably calculated statistics.
IN A NUTSHELL
- CLERMONT ARE WORTHY FAVOURITES
- EXPECTING HEROICS FROM WILKINSON IS WARRANTED
- IT’LL BE CLOSER THAN A LOCK’S FACE AND A FRONT ROW’S ASS CHEEK
#1 Clermont to win on the handicap – Evens -3 points
‘It’ll be close’, ‘book a place on the edge of your seat’ and ‘it’s going to be so dramatic you won’t even think about getting drunk and lighting your farts until right at the end’ are a few the things Sky Sports might tell in a bid to make you forget there’s no English or Irish teams involved and then lawn needs mowing.
It probably will be close (more about that later), but a look back over the recent history books gently nudges us in the direction of Clermont covering the three point handicap at Evens.
Over the course of their last 14 matches, Clermont have won nine times and covered a three point handicap on eight of those occasions. On the flipside of that statistical scrum, three points have nudged Toulon to handicap victory six times. There’s not much in it, but at Evens, Clermont +3 look the pick.
#2 Johnny Wilkinson to score a Drop Goal – 11/10
Johnny Wilkinson and drop goals go together like Chris Ashton and having a bizarrely high opinion of yourself. There’s undoubtedly a level of cliché about it, but it’s also backed up by the stats. Johnny has scored 10 Drop Goals in his European Cup rugby career (Heineken Cup and Amlin). Five of those have come in this season and the last and all five of those have come in knock-out matches. He scored one in both the quarter-final and semi-final this time around so when the chips are down, Johnny likes to take those chips and drop kick them over the crossbar.
- It’s 4/7 that any Drop Goal (i.e. not just from Johnny) is scored in the final
- A more tempting option is Johnny to score more Drop Goals than Brock James at 13/8
ALSO: Johnny has a 100 per cent record from place kicks in his last two Heineken Cup matches (6/6 Quarter-final and 7/7 Semi-final). He’s 6/5 for another 100 per cent record in the final.
#3 Toulon forwards to outscore Clermont forwards – 5/2
Clermont’s back line firepower is astounding. Their scoring has been based on the exploits of Nalaga, Fofana, Sivivatu and to a lesser extent Rougerie and Byrne. Because the fast guys who get all the credit seem to be doing a pretty good job, the pack haven’t had to make that much of contribution to the scoring, chipping with just 17 per cent of their Heineken Cup tries this season.
In contrast, Toulon haven’t been as free-flowing. They haven’t scored a try of any description in their last three matches and when they do, they look for a greater contribution from their pack. A whopping 48 per cent of their tries in this season’s Heineken Cup have come from the more cauliflower eared part of the team and 5/2 for the Toulon forwards to score more than the Clermont forwards looks like value.
#4 Clermont to get the first yellow card – 23/10
To be the best, sometimes you need to bend the rules to the point of breaking. That’s debatable, but Richie McCaw cheats a lot and New Zealand win so it must be true. In contrast however, Toulon have gotten to the Heineken Cup decider and the upper reaches of the Top 14 by being surprisingly fair. They’ve picked up just 13 cards in 26 domestic games, making them the cleanest team in the league. In contrast, Clermont have picked 20 sin-binnings from the same amount of games and are packed full of the sort of shady characters who would pimp out their grannies if it meant getting the put in to a scrum on the ten metre line. If there is going to be a card, it’s worth going with Clermont to get it at 23/10.
#5 It should be a close one
You might think it’ll be close because the two teams are French and know each other inside out. That will contribute, but it’s also likely to be close because it’s a Heineken Cup Final and they tend to be close. 70 per cent of all Heineken Cup finals have been decided by seven points or less. The average margin of victory across those 17 finals is just under eight points, but it’s been inflated by Leinster’s last couple of above average wins. The median winning margin is just five points and that’s also what it is for finals involving two French teams. Depending on which side you fancy, the Alternative Winning Margins of Clermont to win by 1-10 points at 11/8 or Toulon by 1-10 at 9/4 look nailed on to deliver.