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PREVIEW: Get set for a Champions Cup Final classic

Thursday 11th May 2017

12:00 am (GMT)

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It won't have escaped the attention of anyone involved in the Champions Cup final that the last time Saracens were beaten in the tournament it was ASM Clermont Auvergne who inflicted the defeat. - 11/05/2017 22:25

It won't have escaped the attention of anyone involved in the Champions Cup final that the last time Saracens were beaten in the tournament it was ASM Clermont Auvergne who inflicted the defeat. - 11/05/2017 22:25

It won’t have escaped the attention of anyone involved in the Champions Cup final that the last time Saracens were beaten in the tournament it was ASM Clermont Auvergne who inflicted the defeat.

In fact, the TOP14 club can claim the honour of bagging the last two European victories against the reigning champions. But before they start to get carried away with that fact, Saracens have recovered so well from those dark days in 2015 that they are currently unbeaten in their last 17 Champions Cup matches.

Can they make it 18 in Edinburgh to surpass Leinster Rugby’s record 17 match unbeaten run and join Leicester Tigers (2001, 2002), Leinster (2011, 2012) and RC Toulon (2013, 2014, 2015) as the only teams to hold onto their title? Given the way they strangled Munster Rugby in the semi-final in Dublin it will take a brave man to bet against them at BT Murrayfield.

But there is a long-held view in the Champions Cup that if you keep paying your dues, or keep hitting your head against the rock in Saracens terms, you will eventually get your due reward. That’s certainly going to be the view of the neutrals in Edinburgh this weekend when they look at Clermont.

Surely they can’t be destined to be the perennial bridesmaids. Twice before they have reached the final and twice they have let the biggest trophy in world club rugby slip from their grasp, on both occasions allowing RC Toulon to take the Champions Cup home with them.

Will it be third time lucky? Perhaps, but Franck Azema and Mark McCall both know that sentiment will play no part in determining the outcome. The winner will be the best prepared, most focussed and most disciplined team on the day.

“It takes a certain type of club to keep coming back as they have done. They are constantly in the top two in the TOP14 and reaching the knock-out stages of the Champions Cup,” Saracens director of rugby, McCall, said of Clermont.

“There is something different about them compared to other French teams. They have been together for a long time and have a real core to them – you can see the spirit.

“In terms of their rugby, they have everything – a fantastic pack of forwards and a good scrum; half-backs who manage and control games and then some real firepower in the back line.”

One man who knows all about both teams is the Clermont wing Dave Strettle. The two sides have clashed seven times in the tournament before and he has figured in all of them.

But for the first time the England wing will be in Clermont colours. He was a loser with Saracens in the 2014 final against RC Toulon and is looking to break his European duck in the Scottish capital.

A try scorer and try maker in the semi-final win over Leinster Rugby, Strettle is still included in the Saracens team ‘WhatsApp’ group. Not that anything is going to be given away before the big day.

“Saracens don't have a bad day, they are consistently good. They are for me the number one team in Europe,” said Strettle.

“However, Clermont's good days are better than Saracens' good days. So, if we are playing well, we can win.”

It might not be as simple as that. Finding a way through the Saracens steel-like defensive line proved too much for Munster and has guided them into six of the last seven possible finals in which they could have played in the Premiership and Champions Cup.

No wonder, then, that Clermont’s director of rugby, Azema, likened Saracens to “a steamroller from the first to the last minute”. That might be so, but his side has shown throughout another great campaign they have enough firepower up front and behind to beat anyone.

Everywhere you look across the park there are some fantastic match-ups – Chris Ashton against his former England wing colleagues Strettle and Nick Abendanon; the grace and guile of Alex Goode against the power of Scott Spedding at full back; Camille Lopez v Owen Farrell; the battle of the giants in the second row, Maro Itoje and Sebastien Vahaamahina, and then Fritz Lee against Billy Vunipola.

It has all the makings of a classic!

Match Facts

  • Saracens could become the fourth club to win back-to-back European Cup titles, after Leicester Tigers, Leinster Rugby and RC Toulon. 
  • Holders Saracens have won one and lost one of their two previous finals, while Clermont have lost in their two final appearances; no club has played in three finals without winning at least one. 
  • This will be the third time that BT Murrayfield has hosted European clubrugby's showpiece match. The two previous finals in the Scottish capital were each won by margins of fewer than seven points, with Toulouse beating Stade Francais Paris 18-12 after extra-time in 2005 while Leinster defeated Leicester 19-16 in 2009. 
  • This will be the seventh Anglo-French final and the third in the last four seasons; both of Saracens' finals have been against French opposition, but this will be the first time Clermont have faced a team from outside the TOP 14 in the final. 
  • Four of the last six European Cup finals have been decided by margins of more than seven points, just three of the 15 finals before that had been decided by such a margin. 
  • Saracens are unbeaten in their last 17 games in the Champions Cup (W16, D1), equalling Leinster's record which was set between 2010 and 2012 (also W16, D1). 
  • Saracens will claim their 100th victory in European competition if they retain the trophy. To date, they have won 56 games in the Champions Cup and 43 in the Challenge Cup. 
  • Saracens have yet to concede a first-half try this season, however, Clermont have scored more tries than any other side in the first 40 minutes of matches (16). 
  • Chris Ashton needs just one try to become the outright top try scorer in European Cup history. The Saracens wing is currently level with Vincent Clerc on 36 tries. 
  • The three top tacklers this season are all likely to feature in the final. No other player has made as many tackles as Sebastien Vahaamahina (90), Michael Rhodes (82) or Benjamin Kayser (80).

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REPORT: Saracens claim Champions Cup glory in thriller

Saturday 13th May 2017

12:00 am (GMT)

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Saracens secured a 28-17 victory over ASM Clermont Auvergne in a thrilling European Rugby Champions Cup final at BT Murrayfield that entertained from first minute to last. - 13/05/2017 18:36

Saracens secured a 28-17 victory over ASM Clermont Auvergne in a thrilling European Rugby Champions Cup final at BT Murrayfield that entertained from first minute to last. - 13/05/2017 18:36

Saracens secured a 28-17 victory over ASM Clermont Auvergne in a thrilling European Rugby Champions Cup final at BT Murrayfield that entertained from first minute to last.

It means Mark McCall's men sealed Champions Cup glory for the second consecutive season, but they were pushed all the way by a resilient Clermont outfit.

Time and again it looked like Saracens would pull away, only for the French giants to respond.

Chris Ashton and George Kruis crossed for Saracens before the break, only for Remi Lamerat and Nick Abendanon to hit back. It was a contest which enthralled a packed Edinburgh crowd, with the kicking of Owen Farrell and Morgan Parra adding to the finest of European encounters.

In the end, though, it was Saracens who came out on top as Alex Goode put the nail in Clermont's coffin with his team's vital third try in the 73rd minute.

Farrell converted and added his third penalty and it was time for Saracens to start their Champions Cup party.

Clermont fly-half Camille Lopez had got the game started, but it was Saracens who were quickest out the blocks. The were just two minutes on the clock when Marcelo Bosch scythed through and freed Ashton.

The English wing looked certain to score, only for Abendanon to pull off a try-saving tackle to keep the game scoreless.

Ashton had been denied on that occasion, but his team's dominance meant it wasn't long before he was on the scoresheet. A line-out move off the top saw Farrell find Goode, the full-back's inch perfect chip through finding Ashton who dived over in trademark fashion for his 37th Champions Cup try.

It means the former Northampton Saint is now the tournament's leading all time try scorer.

Farrell struck the post with the conversion and then fell short with a monster penalty, but Saracens were still the game's dominant force and their second try soon arrived.

Clermont simply couldn't exit their 22, the pressure finally telling when Kruis powered over from close range. This time, Farrell added the simple extras.

At that stage a one-sided final looked likely, but Clermont responded quickly.

After Maro Itoje was penalised for offside, Lopez turned down the option of three points to kick to the corner.

The decision paid off, Aurelien Rougerie's half break from the line-out allowing his midfield partner Lamerat to put Clermont on the scoreboard. Parra converted.

Lamerat's score was the first try Saracens had conceded in the opening 40 minutes of a Champions Cup game this season and meant there were just five points between the sides at the break.

Lopez started the second half with a missed drop goal attempt and Farrell showed him how it should be done by kicking a simple penalty after Clermont were penalised for not rolling away.

Then came a score fit to grace any final. Scott Spedding and captain Damien Chouly led a Clermont length-of-the-field effort, the pair helping to run the ball back from their own 22.

Lopez then spread the ball left to Peceli Yato who shrugged off Farell to feed Abendanon. The wing did the rest by sprinting clear to score. Parra added the extras to a special score.

The game continued to ebb and flow, Farrell and Parra exchanging kicks at goal to take the game into its final quarter with the result very much still in the balance.

Nerves started to tell, with both teams well aware of what was at stake.

Clermont No 8 Fritz Lee departed the field for a head injury assessment and then returned to the field, while Saracens thought Lopez should have been yellow carded for a deliberate knock-on as Chris Wyles' pass looked like making its way to Ashton outside him.

Referee Nigel Owens, on his 100th European appearance, decided not to sin bin the Frenchman, but the resulting scrum gave Saracens the field position from which they secured victory.

They based themselves in the Clermont 22 for the final 10 minutes, eventually breaking through for Goode to score in the corner. His effort sparked wild celebrations and with Farrell converting and kicking a late penalty, the job was done and dusted as Clermont were left thinking what might have been.

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