It’s time for us to stop building up Clermont as ‘the team to watch’ each season and finally accept that their continued failure to win major honours on a regular basis isn’t hard luck but something more.
For years now fans and pundits alike have been lauding the mighty Clermont Auvergne as THE team to watch in the Top 14 and Heineken Cup as they are regularly predicted as likely winners. The reality though is that ASM Clermont Auvergne have only won 1 major title in their history (the 2010 Top 14) despite having made the final of either the Top 14 or Heineken Cup on 6 occasions since 2001.
1 piece of silverware in 6 attempts is simply not enough to justify the hype that seems to continually surround Clermont, particularly from certain sections of the rugby press. Yes Clermont are a fantastic team packed full of international talent who play with the kind of flair that makes them great to watch, unfortunately this does not always translate to results.
Some will point to Clermont’s unbeaten home record at Parc des Sports Marcel Michelin which now extends to more than 75 games stretching back over several years now. The reality is though that home games don’t win you Championships, if you can’t win in the big games at the big stadiums you are never going to claim the title. In fairness Clermont can feel hard done by in Saturdays 46 – 6 thumping by Saracens given some of the dubious refereeing decisions but can you really claim a 40 point deficit is all down to poor refereeing?
It is time now to really face facts and accept that this Clermont side has flattered to deceive for years now without actually doing anything to justify the huge credit they have. Rugby purists would obviously love to see a side such as Clermont with their free-flowing attacking rugby and core of home grown talent win on the big stage but this looks increasingly unlikely.
The game has shifted massively in recent years and the simple fact of the matter is that Clermont have failed to adapt and have therefore fallen behind the likes of Saracens and Toulon. Unless something significant happens soon they will continue to fall further and further behind as more clubs, particularly in the Top 14, develop around them – just look at how Racing Metro have come on this season.
Even more infuriating is the fact that teams such as Toulon continue to receive criticism for their vast budgets and player recruitment, if anybody bothered to investigate further however they would realise that Toulon only have the fourth biggest budget in French rugby – ASM Clermont Auvergne are second. For all their plaudits it actually turns out that Clermont spend huge sums of money yet fail to match the achievements of other clubs vilified for spending similar sums.
Next season represents a huge marker for Clermont as Head Coach Vern Cotter prepares to depart for the Scotland job whilst a number of star players including Lee Byrne, Nathan Hines and Sitiveni Sivivatu are also set to leave the Parc des Sports Marcel Michelin. In fairness Clermont are set to welcome the likes of Jonathan Davies, Nick Abendanon and Sébastien Vahaamahina to replace the outgoing players but is this really what the side needs?
There is no doubt that Clermont need a shot in the arm but can you honestly say the players coming in will help to overcome the clubs current issues. There is no doubt that Clermont is packed full of talented players, this has never been the issue – the team clearly suffers from some form of mental block when it comes to the big occasion – will allowing some of the sides most experienced players to depart really help them overcome this?
Once again we can expect Clermont to be competitive next year but I just hope that fans and pundits are more realistic in their predictions and finally begin to understand that the men from Parc des Sports Marcel Michelin maybe just aren’t quite the team everyone thinks they are?