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Clermont present a massive challenge

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The Stade Marcel Michelin has been dubbed the most formidable fortress in European rugby and residents ASM Clermont Auvergne are among the strongest teams in the game. What a place to go for a Heineken Cup quarter-final.

Last year it was Toulon, at the time the defending French champions and, then as now, among the game’s biggest spenders. The cauldron of the Stade Felix Mayol, and the atmosphere inside and out on matchday, will be recalled by any player or fan fortunate enough to share in the occasion.

On the pitch, Tigers led, looked in control for long periods, had Toby Flood kicking pressure penalties and played a calculated game. But the referee’s whistle and the kicking of Jonny Wilkinson then took its toll and the French held a six-point advantage at the final whistle on the way to their first European title.

This weekend in Clermont will produce another fantastic occasion, an amazing atmosphere and a test for any player.

Clermont are unbeaten in their last 74 home games and are consistently a force in both their domestic game and in European competition.

Tigers have also lost there twice, making a horrific start in 2009 and then suffering two simultaneous yellow cards on the last trip in 2011.

It is as tough a task as any in European rugby.

But the occasion can also provide a platform for a team to show they’re up for the challenge.

The Tig recalls a win there in 2006, so it is not exactly unknown territory. And this season’s win at Montpellier, who are now top of France’s Top 14, is fresh in the memory too.

Tigers went more than half a century of games unbeaten at Welford Road a decade ago and, despite some recent defeats there by the likes of Harlequins and Saracens, it is still a most noteworthy event if colours are lowered on home ground.

There is no easy way in Europe, which is just as it should be. We’ll find out just how tough it will be on Saturday. And hopefully so will our hosts.