Carling’s French fancy: England great predicts Sarries heartache

FORMER England captain Will Carling fears Saracens will again come up short in their quest to reach a first European final tomorrow.

The Aviva Premiership leaders take on French powerhouses Clermont Auvergne in the Heineken Cup semi-final at Twickenham, looking to end their hoodoo against cross-channel opponents having lost at the same stage last year to Jonny Wilkinson’s Toulon.

By director of rugby Mark McCall’s own admission, Sarries’ 22-3 defeat to Clermont in the last-eight stage two years ago was “men against boys”, leading to a change in ethos at the London club.

Yet Carling still feels tomorrow’s hurdle will prove too difficult to clear for Saracens’ bulked up team.

“The Saracens defence is awesome, but Clermont have a great team with so much power and I can’t see past them,” said Carling, winner of 72 England caps.

“Saracens have done well to get where they are. Ulster had crucial injuries to Rory Best and [Ruan] Pienaar in the quarter-final and I wonder how they would have been had they not lost a man after five minutes [Jared Payne was sent off].

“I tipped Clermont to win the Heineken Cup from the beginning and that hasn’t changed. I think they will have too much.”

Should Sarries have any chance of victory though, Carling believes England duo Owen Farrell and Chris Ashton must be influential.

“Owen Farrell has improved hugely at No10 in terms of his management of the game in the last six months and his kicking is outstanding,” added Carling. “It’s a massive game too for Ashton because he certainly has a point to prove.”

Will Carling is the host of the Heineken Rugby Show. Join the conversation at #HeinekenRugby and watch the next show at www.youtube.com/Heineken