Saracens defend Champions Cup title at Murrayfield
Clermont Auvergne’s wait for European glory continues as Mark McCall’s side triumph
Saracens 28 Clermont Auvergne 17
Alex Goode’s late try ensured Saracens secured their second straight European Champions Cup triumph as they edged out Clermont Auvergne 28-17 at Murrayfield.
But Top 14 giants Clermont hit back through Remi Lamerat and Nick Abendanon to set up a grandstand finish. However, fullback Goode’s touchdown seven minutes from time ensured it was Saracens who retained their title.
It means yet more agony for Clermont, who have now lost three European Cup finals to go with their miserable Top 14 record of one success – in 2010 – and a remarkable 11 defeats.
Both sides named lineups befitting the occasion, with Sarries fielding all six of their British and Irish Lions call-ups while France internationals Scott Spedding, Lamerat, Camille Lopez, Sebastien Vahaamahina and Damien Chouly started for Clermont.
The French side have built their success this term on starting with a rapid tempo but they found themselves having to cling on as Saracens darted out the blocks.
Wing Abendanon did well to haul down Ashton as he looked set to race through just moments after kick-off.
The only surprise was it took the Londoners 13 minutes to make their breakthrough.
A clean lineout set them up to swing the ball out to Goode via Owen Farrell, with the fullback dumping a perfect grubber in behind the Clermont back three for Ashton to gallop onto.
All that was left for the former England winger was to dust down his trademark ‘Ash splash’ as he celebrated his record-breaking 37th European Cup touchdown.
Farrell’s kick came back off the upright while his next attempt from almost half-way fell a yard short.
But Sarries were throwing the ball about with astounding composure, barely missing a beat as almost every pass found its way into a pair of grateful hands.
And they added a second try in the 22nd minute. First Chris Wyles drove into dangerous territory before Goode shunted the English champions to within touching distance of the posts. With Clermont still scrambling back into covering positions, Kruis arrived at the perfect moment to crash over. This time, Farrell did convert.
As impressive as Saracens were playing, it was doing nothing to generate a buzz among the 55,272-strong Murrayfield crowd.
The game needed a Clermont response if a real spectacle was to be had and to the joy of the Yellow Army it arrived after 27 minutes.
A five-metre scrum presented the chance to strike, with Fritz Lee and Morgan Parra combining to feed Aurelien Rougerie. Ashton performed heroics preventing the centre from scoring but Lamerat was not to be stopped as he found a hole in the English defence second time round. Parra added the extras.
The intensity that had been missing from Clermont in the early stages of the first period was there in abundance as the second half kicked off.
But when Lopez failed to find the target with a drop-goal attempt, Saracens sensed a lull and drove their opponents 80 yards back before Farrell knocked over a simple penalty.
Yet the French side were not done yet. Spedding burst forward from his own 22 to get his side back on the front foot. With space opening up out wide, Peceli Yato then rampaged down the left – taking out Ashton and Farrell as he went – before passing off to Abendanon to run in unopposed.
Parra’s conversion brought Clermont to within a point of Sarries before he exchanged successful penalties with Farrell.
That set up a tense final quarter-hour but it was Saracens who emerged on top as Goode got the decisive score, making the most of Marcelo Bosch’s decoy run to speed over in the corner.
Farrell’s conversion effectively sealed victory but he got the party started early two minutes from time with another straight-forward penalty.