Saracens boosted by Clermont Aurelien Rougerie blow
Saracens' chances of reaching the Heineken Cup final for the first time have been handed a major boost after Clermont Auvergne captain Aurelien Rougerie was ruled out of today's last-four clash through injury.
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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," former Ulster coach 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."
Rougerie will still travel with the squad to the match at Twickenham against Saracens, who defeated Ulster in the quarter-finals at Ravenhill, but it is flanker Julien Bonnaire who will wear the armband.
Clermont boss Vern Cotter played down the effect Rougerie's injury will have on his team's performance.
"We knew after the match against Racing it was not looking good," Cotter said.
"We worked with the others this week knowing he may not play.
"It doesn't change much, you expect those things to happen – obviously someone else can come in, it changes things a bit but not too much."
The Men in Black were relieved to see Owen Farrell come through training unscathed this week after he was forced off at half-time against Northampton with an injury to his right foot a fortnight ago.
The selection of the England number 10 is particularly important given second choice Charlie Hodgson is missing with a calf injury sustained on Tuesday.
Should Farrell have to withdraw during the match, Alex Goode will step in at fly-half having deputised there on a handful of occasions in the past.
The semi-final marks something of a yardstick for Saracens, who were beaten 22-3 and outclassed by Clermont in the tournament's last eight two years ago, but, as Cotter noted, McCall's men are "stronger, better and more powerful" this time around.