New Zealand’s Sitiveni Sivivatu is the dangerman whom Saracens must contain in their European Cup semi-final with Clermont at Twickenham today, according to coach Mark McCall.
Although it is nearly three years since Sivivatu won the last of his 45 All Blacks caps, the 32-year-old Fiji-born flyer 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,” McCall said. “He is amazing. He’s got the most meters 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,” he added.
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 has not 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, who are 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 center McCall said: “The Toulon semi last year, they didn’t score a try that day, and we had an opportunity after halftime. 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; it’s not going to be like that this weekend,” he said.
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, but look at their European record away, it’s pretty special. They have traveled well and they bring their A-game to these occasions,” McCall said.
However Clermont, who lost by just a point to Toulon in last season’s final, have yet to win the European Cup — like Saracens.
“Clermont have been in the knockout stages of this competition for seven years and have never won it,” McCall said.
“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,” he added.
Clermont captain Aurelien Rougerie is doubtful for the game, a club source said on Thursday.
Rougerie is struggling with a thigh injury and although he trained on Thursday, he did not appear fully fit.
If he is ruled out, Clermont are likely to line up with Wesley Fofana and Benson Stanley in the center, with versatile Fijian back Noa Nakaotaci drafted into the traveling party.