Saracens retain European crown
Saracens made it back-to-back Champions Cup triumphs as they deservedly defeated Clermont 28-17 at Murrayfield on Saturday.
Clermont were making noises before this encounter that this was a much-changed team, one that had overcome the mental lapses that previously encompassed their displays in both domestic and European finals. However, it was not to be for les Jaunards as their opponents displayed greater fitness in the second period.
Even the opening quarter hinted that work still has to be done, with Clermont initially unable to deal with a powerful Sarries side.
Tries for Chris Ashton – his 37th in Europe’s top-tier competition, breaking Vincent Clerc’s record – and George Kruis moved the Premiership club into a dominant 12-0 advantage before the Frenchmen got themselves back into the contest via Remi Lamerat.
Owen Farrell added two penalties after the interval to keep Clermont at arm’s length but a moment of magic, which ended in Nick Abendanon touching down, set up a tense finale.
Sarries were not at their best but Auvergne appeared to tire going into the last 10 minutes and Alex Goode completed the win and sealed a second European trophy.
The last time Saracens and Clermont faced each other in a knockout match on British soil, the visitors were blown away by a superb performance from the Englishman.
Sarries’ start paved the way for their 46-6 victory in 2014 and they began this match with similar intent at Murrayfield. Les Jaunards were evidently tense and Marcelo Bosch benefited, scything through a hole in the French outfit’s midfield.
Ashton, as is typical with the arch try-scorer, was on hand to take the pass and charge towards the line, but Clermont were thankful for the intervention of Abendanon who scrambled well.
Mark McCall’s men continued to dominate the encounter, despite Scott Spedding and Peceli Yato briefly causing panic in a usually impregnable rearguard, and they were rewarded with an early try.
The defending champions initially looked to their forwards, driving into the heart of Clermont, before they were given a penalty advantage. They then moved it wide and an inch-perfect kick from Goode sent Ashton over for his record-breaking score.
French rugby is renowned for its physicality but they were losing every collision and a second touchdown was soon forthcoming.
Once again, the pack created the issues for Franck Azema’s side and with the holes gradually appearing, Richard Wigglesworth fed Goode. The full-back was brought down inches from the left-hand post but Kruis was on hand to barrel across the whitewash and extend Saracens’ buffer.
Clermont had barely fired a shot but they finally gave themselves an opportunity five metres from the opposition line. Although their first attack was held up, a stable scrum allowed them to go through the backs and, after good initial work from Aurelien Rougerie, Lamerat took the ball off his centre partner and burrowed over.
At 12-7 down, the Frenchmen were still in the contest at the interval and they opened the second period impressively, threatening via Spedding after David Strettle had sent him clear.
Clermont failed to add to that on the scoreboard, though, with Camille Lopez missing a drop-goal attempt and almost immediately Saracens made them pay for that profligacy when Farrell kicked a penalty.
At that point, Clermont, particularly with their renowned mental fragilities, could have folded, but they hit back with one of the tries of the season.
It started with Spedding counter-attacking from well inside his own 22 and taking play up to the 10-metre line. Excellent hands gave the outstanding Yato space on the left and a superb offload by the Fijian allowed Abendanon an easy run across the whitewash.
Farrell and Morgan Parra then traded penalties as just one-point separated the sides going into the final quarter.
It was about which team would maintain their composure and the defending champions managed to keep Clermont pinned in their own half.
The pressure was unrelenting and eventually Goode scored to take them eight points clear before Farrell’s three-pointer ended the game as a contest, creating more heartbreak for Clermont.
Tries: Lamerat, Abendanon
Cons: Parra 2
Tries: Ashton, Kruis, Goode
Cons: Farrell 2
Pens: Farrell 3
Clermont: 15 Scott Spedding, 14 David Strettle, 13 Aurélien Rougerie, 12 Rémi Lamerat, 11 Nick Abendanon, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Peceli Yato, 6 Damien Chouly (c), 5 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 4 Arthur Iturria, 3 Davit Zirakashvili, 2 Benjamin Kayser, 1 Raphael Chaume
Replacements: 16 John Ulugia, 17 Etienne Falgoux, 18 Aaron Jarvis, 19 Paul Jedrasiak, 20 Alexandre Lapandry, 21 Ludovic Radosavljevic, 22 Pato Fernandez, 23 Damien Penaud
Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Brad Barritt (c), 11 Chris Wyles, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Jackson Wray, 6 Michael Rhodes, 5 George Kruis, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola
Replacements: 16 Schalk Brits, 17 Titi Lamositele, 18 Petrus du Plessis, 19 Jim Hamilton, 20 Schalk Burger, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Alex Lozowski, 23 Duncan Taylor
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: George Clancy (Ireland), Ian Davies (Wales)
TMO: Jon Mason (Wales)