European Champions Cup Betting: Lions day could see Sarries getting mauled

Mane attraction - but Saracens weren't happy about the Lions squad photo call
Mane attraction - but Saracens weren't happy about the Lions squad photo call
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Saracens are huge favourites to defend their European Cup this weekend but Ralph Ellis says boss Mark McCall is right to be worried about his preparation.

"To pile in odds of [1.5] would be to seriously under-estimate the potential of Clermont who will have wily France international scrum half Morgan Parra fit after suffering an injury scare last weekend."

Talk to most coaches and managers and they will tell you the toughest part of a Cup final is not so much the game itself as the paraphernalia that comes before it.

There are media days, suits to be fitted, tickets for friends and family to sort out, sponsors who want the players to make appearances for them, hotels and travel arrangements to be resolved, training facilities to be provided.

So it is hard not to have some sympathy with Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall who will be dealing with all that stuff himself - and then on top of it all lost half a dozen of his players on Monday to go through the same sort of hoops preparing to tour with the Lions.

McCall wanted every day of the week before his team face crack French side Clermont Auvergne at Murrayfield on Saturday to focus on their attempt to retain the European Cup. Instead he had to do without his biggest stars on Monday before his club had their own media day on Tuesday.

After doing the double last season, Saracens go into the final as huge [1.5] favourites in the Match Odds to emerge victorious again. They have established themselves as the powerhouse of modern club rugby, especially after going to Lyon to beat Racing 92 in the 2016 final.

But to pile in at those odds would be to seriously under-estimate the potential of Clermont who will have wily France international scrum half Morgan Parra fit after suffering an injury scare last weekend.

They showed their pace and power in the way they demolished Leinster 27-22 in the semi-final, a match which referee Nigel Owens, who will also be in charge of the final, described as the "fastest paced club game" he had ever seen.

McCall wanted a full week to focus on getting his tactics right to deal with that onslaught, and had planned an extra training day after resting most of his biggest stars - including Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje and the Vunipola brothers - from the final day defeat at Wasps.

Instead he lost them plus Jamie George and George Kruis - arguably his six best players - while they went to a London hotel to be buried under a mountain of kit for their summer tour.

Of course a club with the resources of Saracens should be able to shrug these things off, but big matches are decided on fine margins and any disruption to a side's preparation can't be a good thing.

It certainly must have made Gloucester happy that they only have Ross Moriarty in Warren Gatland's squad to tour New Zealand. They could get everybody else focused on Friday night's Challenge Cup final against Stade Francais.

Gloucester are [2.44] outsiders but could be worth backing because while the French club are powerful at their base in Paris they aren't always so strong on the road, and they certainly weren't convincing when they edged out Bath thanks only to a dramatic late dropped goal in the semi-final.

Gloucester have improved greatly since the departure of head coach Laurie Fisher in March, with director of rugby David Humphreys taking a more hands-on approach and have the potential to win this tournament and earn a backdoor entry to next season's Champions Cup.

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