Clermont rout Saracens in front of 1,500 hardy souls
Rescheduled Champions Cup game caused controversy but ended in convincing win
Alivereti Raka of Clermont Auvergne scores the opening try during their Champions Cup win over Saracens. Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images
Saracens 14 Clermont Auvergne 46
Perhaps Saracens will wish the doors stayed closed after all. The European champions have swept all before them on the continent in recent years but this was a record thrashing at the hands of Clermont side, irate that this contest was not played on Sunday, every bit as resounding as the scoreline suggests.
Alivereti Raka scored three of their six tries and was near untouchable on the left wing, Morgan Parra imperious at scrum-half and Fritz Lee a colossus despite his yellow card. But Saracens simply could not shake the snow off the roof. Defensively they were dreadful, missing a staggering 37 tackles and they played nothing like a side who were unbeaten in their previous 20 European matches – a run that dates back to the 2015 semi-final defeat by Clermont.
In fact, they looked far more like a side who have now lost six matches in a row – everyone involved at the club dismissed talk of crisis last week but that may need to be reconsidered after Clermont cruised to the top of the pool and went some way to avenging last season’s defeat in the final. It also goes down as a worst ever European Cup weekend for English clubs with all seven defeated but it is perhaps Saracens who nurse the largest wounds.
Clermont meanwhile, played like the caged animals that we thought they might, having spent Sunday stranded at their hotel, unsure of when the match would be rearranged. They made bold statements beforehand about how they felt they had been treated but none rings louder than inflicting a record European defeat on the champions. And that they did so with three fly-halves on the injured list should not be forgotten either.
It did not feel right that these two European heavyweights slugged it out in front of approximately 1,500 hardy souls who braved the elements for this rearranged fixture, but that the 80 or so Clermont supporters were the most audible, told plenty about their determination in the face of adversity and no little about just how poor Saracens were throughout.
Their defence is heralded as the Wolfpack – for the most part they tackled more like wallflowers. The departure of Brad Barritt after just three minutes, and all the organisational qualities he brings, undoubtedly contributed but it is unheard of for Saracens to miss 16 tackles within half an hour.
It cost them three tries, all of them taken smartly by Clermont’s flying Fijian winger Raka – who we are likely to see turning out for France in the Six Nations – in the second quickest hat-trick in European Cup history. Wesley Fofana meanwhile, was absent from May’s final due to injury but he began in a manner intent of making up for it. Saracens had been given plenty of warning before his inside ball put Raka away for his first score, Jamie George slipping off the tackle all too easily.
Damian Penaud was a late introduction to the starting XV but even at 21, the diminutive centre has a burgeoning reputation and his slippery running was evidence of why. It was his initial break that yielded Raka’s second try, with Fofana again playing a key role, carving inside from the left wing. The third was the lowest ebb hit in the first half by Saracens. Their scrum was marmalised, the Clermont penalty kicked to the corner before Morgan Parra ghosted through the defence and fed Raka inside him to cruise under the posts.
Saracens needed a swift response and it came just before the half-hour mark – a penalty kicked to the corner resulting in a penalty try with Lee sent to the sin-bin. A chance then, for Saracens to make back ground before the interval but their cause was hampered by Richard Wigglesworth’s departure to injury. Parra added a penalty before three Saracens penalties were kicked to the corner, yet each opportunity was wasted.
Clermont were not without their injury problems themselves – Sitaleki Timani and Judicael Cancoriet both making way – but when Raka set off on a stunning 60-metre run, beating four Saracens defenders before putting the replacement Flip van der Merwe over for a wondrous try soon after the break, the visitors had the bonus point and a commanding 24-point lead.
Two more penalties from the flawless Parra further twisted the knife – as did the try Fofana deserved that came in between them. George Kruis’s late try at least took the home side into double figures but Isaia Toeava’s late score ensured the margin of Clermont’s victory eclipsed Saracens’ 2006 defeat by Biarritz. In addition, it is Saracens’ first ever European defeat at Allianz Park and the most points they have ever conceded in the competition. They do not need reminding that they face Clermont away on Sunday.
SARACENS: Goode; Maitland (Earle, 64), Bosch, Barritt (Lozowski, 3), Wyles; Farrell, Wigglesworth (Spencer, 32); Vunipola (Barringon, 62), George (Tolofua, 62), Koch (Figallo, 50), Skelton (Earl, 70), Kruis, Clark, Burger (Isiekwe, 48), Wray.
Tries: Penalty, Kruis. Cons: Farrell 2.
CLERMONT: Spedding; Strettle (Abendanon, 70), Penaud (Betham, 68), Fofana, Raka, Toeava, Parra (capt; Trussardi, 75); Falgoux (Kakabadze, 68), Kayser (Ulugia, 76), Slimani (Jarvis, 68), Timani (Van der Merwe, 3), Vahaamahina, Cancoriet (Yato, 20), Lapandry, Lee.
Tries: Raka 3, Van der Merwe, Fofana, Toeava. Cons: Parra 5. Pens: Parra 2. Sin-bin: Lee 28.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wal). – Guardian service