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Burger relishing Clermont clash

When Jacques Burger lines up in the Twickenham tunnel for Saracens' Heineken Cup semi-final against Clermont Auvergne on Saturday, his thoughts may drift to exactly a year ago when he wondered if he would ever play rugby again.

Sarries had reached the tournament semi-finals and were taking on another French heavyweight in Toulon, to whom they lost a tight encounter 24-12.

Despite the defeat, there was much for Saracens to celebrate having made the semis for the very first time but for Burger, still suffering from a two-year knee injury, there was little room for optimism.

"I remember this time last year we played Toulon and those were very dark days for me," Burger said.

"I was nowhere near fit enough to play and I had to watch from the sidelines.

"It's amazing to think that a year later I'm in this position, you forget about it, once you're back playing you forget how hard it was.

"A lot of people told me it would be tough getting back, I might not ever get back and even if I did get back I might not be as good as I had been before.

"I was lucky I had a great team that supported me - I'm blessed to be back doing what I love and to be playing in the semi-final of the Heineken Cup is just another dream come true."

Burger will be up against Clermont's Damien Chouly on Saturday, who is just one of a number of high-profile names on the French side's teamsheet.

One player who won't feature, however, is captain Aurelien Rougerie who has been ruled out of the clash through injury.

Rougerie is suffering from the hamstring strain he sustained last Saturday during Clermont's surprise 22-6 loss to Racing Metro and is replaced by Benson Stanley at outside centre.

Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall insists the question mark over Rougerie's fitness had not altered his side's preparations this week but admits the 33-year-old's absence represents a big loss for the French side.

"He's obviously a world-class player and he's been a phenomenal leader for Clermont like Steve [Borthwick] has been for us down the years," McCall said.

"But if you look down their team sheet, there's vast experience so like a lot of top teams I think they can accommodate a loss like that.

"They've got Benson Stanley, who isn't too shabby, to take his place - it's a loss, I'm sure it is for them, but they've got a very experienced group."

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