After the frustration of missing the entire international season through injury, Duncan Taylor is desperate to get back on a BT Murrayfield pitch which saw him score one of the great Scotland tries the last time he graced it.
The Saracens utility back blazed down the right touchline from inside his own half in the thrilling home win over France last year but hasn’t featured for his country since the Japan tour last summer as ankle and hamstring injuries scuppered his hopes of featuring in the autumn Tests or Six Nations.
Taylor has been getting back in the groove lately and has been named in Scotland’s summer tour squad but he will start on the bench tonight as Sarries look to retain their European Champions Cup title when they face Clermont Auvergne.
He is joined among the replacements by compatriot Jim Hamilton, though there is no place for Kelly Brown, who retires at the end of the season, and Sean Maitland is injured and facing a fight to join Taylor on the plane to Singapore, where Scotland face Italy before Tests in Australia and Fiji.
“I’m gutted for Sean to miss out, but I’m very excited to get involved and play up here in Edinburgh. It’s a home from home,” said Taylor. “I have a lot of family up here that will come and watch. They don’t get to see me play very often so that means a lot. I am very excited to be involved.”
If Saracens can win tonight and set themselves up for a “double-double” ahead of the English play-offs and possible final, it would place them in elite company as only the fourth club to retain Europe’s top prize after Leicester (2001-2002), Leinster (2011-12) and Toulon, who won three in a row from 2012 to 2015.
Sarries have made imperious progress to this final, ruthlessly dismantling Glasgow at the quarter-final stage before an equally impressive win over Munster in the semi-final. Mark McCall’s men are on the verge of being regarded as one of the greatest English sides ever and, arguably, one of the best Europe has seen but skipper Brad Barritt, pictured, insists that the focus is homed in on enjoyment and appreciating the ride they are on rather than any grand thoughts about legacy.
“A big lesson we learned last year was at the culmination of the season – you have this euphoria for two days and then it dissipates and dies down and you start thinking towards next season,” said the South Africa-born England centre. “The more you actually think about it, the enjoyment comes from the journey, the procedure of getting there, the step-by-step process of achieving something you set out to do.
“That’s the way we have attacked this year – we wanted to learn, improve and get better as a team. We know the sense of enjoyment is through the journey and not necessarily at the end of it.
“We made it pretty clear we weren’t going to be a flash in the pan. But we have never spoken in terms of how great a legacy we want to create.”
This evening will be a clash between Europe’s most clinical finishers in Saracens against a French side known to be explosive starters.
“It doesn’t happen overnight. It’s been gradual improvement and the understanding of how to finish games off,”added Barritt.
Clermont Auvergne head coach Franck Azema, meanwhile, insists they will proudly carry their history into the Champions Cup final while trying to write a new chapter.
The French side lost to Toulon in the 2013 final under former Scotland coach Vern Cotter and to the same opposition in the 2015 final but hope to go one better against the holders this evening. Clermont have twice won the Challenge Cup but their record in finals is generally not a good omen – they have lost 11 of their 12 Top 14 deciders.
Azema said: “I know the history of the club and we are very proud of what we have done in the past and our ability to get to finals, and to win titles and lose titles as well.
“We are very consistent and our history shows this. We should be proud of it and carry it with us. But we have the opportunity to write a new chapter. Not to erase the history but simply to write something new.”