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A new name will be engraved on the Champions Cup trophy in Lyon this weekend, but who will enjoy the happiest celebration at the end of the 21st final of the biggest and best cub rugby tournament in the world?
Saracens and Racing 92 are bidding to become only the 11th winners of the title that was first won by Toulouse back in 1996. That Guy Noves inspired team also completed the league and European Cup double – a target for both teams at Grand Stade de Lyon on Saturday.
That fact alone shows the Champions Cup final will be contested between two of the best teams in Europe. English champions Saracens are seeking to put behind them the bitter disappointment of losing to RC Toulon in the 2014 final, while Saturday night will be new territory for Racing.
There is a long held belief in European competitions that those sides that pay their dues will ultimately reap their rewards. Saracens have been in the past four semi-finals, have now reached their second final and are unbeaten in the Champions Cup this season.
But if they are to make history by becoming the first team to win all nine matches in one season to take the title then they will have to contend with the talents of a man who, before joining Racing this season, has been there and done it all. Dan Carter has begun to make the Parisian side tick this season and will no doubt be the most talked about name in the Saracens dressing room.
“We know less about Racing than we would have done had Leicester won the semi-final. Playing a French team in France will present huge challenges, but we have never minded that,” admitted Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall.
“We beat them last year in the quarter-final, but they have moved on since then and have, of course, added Dan Carter to their side. But it would be a big, big mistake to think you are going to go and get Dan Carter – he has been doing this for a very long time.
“We’ve got to make sure his influence in the game isn’t huge, and isn’t unbelievably significant. If we can do that it means our pack will have got on top at the set-pieces and we will have to put a little bit more pressure on him than he has experienced before.”
So, there’s the game plan in a nut-shell! Turn the screw up front, hound the half-backs and make the pressure tell. Sounds pretty simple, but will it be effective?
Racing shocked everyone with their physicality and intensity in the semi-final win over Leicester Tigers in Nottingham and their defensive effort that day was monumental. Their scrum was pretty solid, their line-out, with the lighthouse tall Luke Charteris a commanding presence, was faultless, and Carter put them into all the right places on the field.
He’s already won three Super Rugby titles with the Crusaders, picked up a World Cup winners medal with the All Blacks earlier in the season and is now seeking the top club title in the northern hemisphere to add to his glittering collection. His battle with Owen Farrell will be as crucial as it will be fascinating.
But Saracens will arrive with their own set of hard-to-stop playmaker. Can Racing deal with the raw power of No 8 Billy Vunipola or the proven try-scoring talent of wing Chris Ashton? Add in the brilliant counter-attacking full back Alex Goode and the youthful exuberance of English rugby’s rising young star Maro Itoje and it is easy to see why Saracens will probably go into the game as slight favourites.
Champions Cup finals, however, are not won on paper or in theory. They are won by the team that turns up best prepared on the day and which is willing to impose its will on the opposition. It’s going to be fascinating!
- This will be the sixth meeting between the clubs in the competition; Racing won the first encounter in 2010/11 but Saracens have won all four since.
- Four of the previous five matches between the sides have been won by margins of fewer than 10 points.
- This will be Racing 92's first appearance in a European final, while Saracens have reached this stage once before in 2014 when they were beaten 23-6 by RC Toulon.
- This will be the sixth Anglo-French decider. Premiershipclubs have won three with the TOP 14 winning two.
- 14 of the previous 20 finals have been decided by margins of seven points or fewer, while just three finals have seen over 50 points scored in total.
- Saracens remain on course to become the first team club to win all pool matches before going on to lift the trophy.
- Saracens have failed to score a try in five of their six knockout games against French opposition in the Champions Cup (W2, L3).
- Saturday's contest will be between the competition's best attack and best defence; Saracens (34.1) have averaged the most points per game this season while Racing have conceded the fewest (12.8).
- Owen Farrell (41/57) has succeeded with the most kicks at goal this season. No other player has reached 25, he is also the top point scorer (106).
- Dan Carter (23/24 – 96%) however has the best success rate of any player to attempt at least eight shots at goal. Carter's teammate Johann Goosen has landed the longest kick in the competition this season from 55 metres.
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Saracens finally have their name etched onto the European Rugby Champions Cup after Owen Farrell booted them to a 21-6 triumph over Racing 92 in Lyon.
Mark McCall’s men controlled possession and territory to land seven penalties to Racing’s three, in the first Champions Cup final without a try for 10 years. Nigel Owens’ final whistle was a landmark moment for Saracens, who were beaten in the 2014 final by RC Toulon.
But they finally got their hands on the trophy at a rain sodden Grand Stade de Lyon against a Parisian side, whose hopes faded when Dan Carter limped off injured two minutes into the second-half.
Farrell landed seven penalties from seven attempts to earn a deserved victory that sees Saracens become the first side to win all nine games in a Champions Cup campaign.
Maxime Machinaud missed an early opportunity to put the French side ahead after the first scrum-penalty. But Saracens secured a set-piece chance of their own five minutes later after Owen Farrell’s deft chip through had the Racing defence scrambling. And the England outside-half made no mistake from close range to put Sarries 3-0 ahead.
The heavens opened and the rain pelted down moments later, but both sides maintained their attacking intentions. Racing forced their way into Saracens territory to force the English side into submission at a scrum, and Johan Goosen landed a long-range kick to level the scores after 17 minutes.
But McCall’s men began to flex their muscles in the second quarter. Farrell missed a drop-goal but atoned for his error with a penalty to retake a slim three-point advantage. His chip through moments later almost setup a Chris Ashton try, but referee Nigel Owens brought it back for an earlier offence, which Farrell punished with another penalty.
Goosen split the uprights with another penalty to keep Racing in-touch, but Farrell matched his effort to give Saracens a 12-6 half-time lead.
Sarries came out of the changing rooms and immediately looked to assert a territorial advantage. They turned Racing over five metres out from their own line, before Dimitri Szarzewsk came in from the side to concede a penalty. And Farrell maintained his 100 percent record off the tee to stretch the advantage to 15-6.
But Racing would not let this final pass them by, and turned up the tempo after 60 minutes. Saracens held-off a bludgeoning assault, but conceded a close range penalty, which Goosen converted to make it a six-point game.
And Farrell made sure it Saracens name would be on the trophy with his sixth successful three-pointer after 75 minutes, before wrapping it up a minute from time.