‘An away European Cup semi-final in France’. For visiting teams, it’s a phrase that has come to epitomise ‘seemingly possible, but ultimately unpleasant task’ more than similar alternatives like ‘Review of Justin Bieber’s latest album’, ‘sitting through an entire episode of Hollyoaks’ and ‘live TV political debate’.
With the Artist Formerly Known as the Heineken Cup now down to the last four teams, this weekend sees two French giants host useful yet seemingly ill-fated visitors from closer to these shores. Saracens bring their collection of well-paid cosmopolitan mix of players to take on the even more well-paid and slightly less cosmopolitan force of Clermont Auvergne in St. Etienne while Leinster hit the Mediterranean coast for a game against a Toulon side who, much to most of European rugby’s disappointment, are proving not to be an overpaid shambles of indifferent mercenaries.
Competition rules mean it’s not exactly a home game for either Clermont or Toulon, but the abundance of berets and greater general tolerance of body odour tells us it isn’t exactly a neutral safe-haven either. Clermont are about 100 km from the place they normally call home, while Toulon have a rather scenic 50km coastal drive to take them to their venue on Sunday.
Is there any hope for this weekend’s visitors? Well, the odds tell one story, but the record books tell us another story that’s basically the same story, but with added straws to clutch at. The Paddy Power blog has gone through the data and found some very slightly encouraging stats. If you squint and are Irish.
The odds and the stats are in the French teams’ favour. That’s a fact as obvious as Mathieu Bastaraud’s beer belly.
English teams have only won three European Cup semi-finals as the away team, but to somewhat defend that stat, they also haven’t been in that many as the away side.To not really defend it, one of those wins was the farcical penalty shoot-out win over Cardiff in 2009 and one was an all English showdown. The other was an admittedly superb win over Munster at Lansdowne Road. But that was 11 years ago – a time so long ago that Coldplay albums were still considered innovative and welcome! In short:
- English sides have a 4-4 record in semi-finals against French teams
- They’ve never won a semi-final in France (even the one they contested was played in Spain)
- English teams are 3-7 in their last 10 European Cup semi-finals against all teams
Saracens did however thump Clermont by 40 points in last year’s semi-final meeting between the two sides. While the long term stats discourage confidence, recent history can inflate that confidence to completely delusion levels. Nice
The news for Leinster is similarly grim, but with a few sprinklings of silver-lining which means you can’t piss entirely over their rolling maul. French teams have won 9 (75%) of 12 home semi-finals against non-French teams, but:
- all three of those defeats have been at the hands of Irish teams (Munster x2, Leinster x1)
- French teams lose 41% of European Cup semi-finals overall
- Leinster are 4-4 (with one draw) in France over the last six seasons
For both visiting sides, there is some hope, but it’s far from expectation. The betting suggests the French teams will monopolise the final like their nation monopolises smug over-confidence about their culture. With the wallets they can wave at potential recruits, that’s quelle surprise.