Saracens march on, European champions for the second successive year and on this form pretty much unstoppable. You might as well attempt to turn back the tide as halt the waves of red jerseys battering their way forward in yesterday’s final at Murrayfield.
Clermont were brave, inventive and tenacious and still they were lucky to be just one point adrift as this tense match moved into the final quarter.
Eventually a fumble by full-back Scott Spedding led to a try by his opposite number Alex Goode who darted through a gap wide on the right but only after the big men in red had done their usual softening up job.
Farrell’s touchline conversion meant Clermont had to score twice to win. Lopez missed a simple penalty from the restart, Farrell made no such mistake from dead ahead and ASM Clermont left Murrayfield as they arrived, still the best club never to have won the European Cup.
“It felt we were dominant for for long periods,” said Saracens’ director of rugby Mark McCall. “We attacked very well but we couldn’t get away on the scoreboard.
“It was one of those games when they scored their 100-metre try, it’s 18-17 and it felt that we should have been in more control. The one place we weren’t in control was on the scoreboard. I thought our reaction to their try was outstanding. We really attacked for the last 20 minutes and played some outstanding rugby.”
The game started at a helter skelter pace and Sarries could have had a try inside the first minute had Nick Adebanon not make a superb covering tackle on a flying Ashton.
The winger was not to be denied for long. On 15 minutes Saracens drove a lineout, Goode grubbered the ball behind the French defence and it sat up perfectly for Ashton to score. The winger, who joins Toulon next season, now holds the record for the most European Cup tries with 37 to his name. Remi Lamerat ran hard, Pecelli Yato was outstanding and the front row did their stuff but there was scarcely any aspect of this match where Clermont held the whip hand.
Lopez went to the air and Rougerie knocked on. Saracens drove their lineouts and Clermont conceded penalties. Sarries especially dominated the contact zone where their midfield bruisers, Barritt and Bosch, sound and act like a couple of night club bouncers. Clermont coach Franck Azema conceded that his players had come second in that area, underlining that Saracens put them under pressure “all the time”.
There was little to chose between the two scrum-halves. Richard Wigglesworth and Morgan Parra, both veterans, know their way around a rugby field but with just 30 per cent of territory much of the play took place deep inside the Clermont half of the field and exhaustion meant that holes began to appear in the defensive line.
A long series of attacks saw Jamie George pick an out-to-in line that almost earned the hooker a score and in the very next phase the exact same angle of attack worked for lock George Kruis.
Clermont had just one attack inside the Sarries 22 throughout the entire first half but, to their credit, they made it count. Two penalties saw Clermont finally park their tanks on Saracens’ front lawn. A lineout drive was held up but from the resulting scrum Parra fired a bullet out to the back line, Aurelien Rougerie plucked it out of the air and while the rangy centre couldn’t quite score his midfield amigo Lamerat did.
Clermont somehow went into the break trailing by no more than five, at which point they must have been tempted to buy a lottery ticket.
Sarries started the second half where they left off the first, with their foot firmly on the gas, Farrell kicking the first penalties of the game, on 50 and 57 minutes.
But in between Abendanon scored the best try of the match by a margin. It came courtesy of the athleticism and dexterity of flanker Peceli Yato who somehow held off Farrell and Ashton while going full pelt up the left flank before releasing his winger with a breathtaking flip out the back of his hand.
Parra added the conversion and a penalty on the one hour mark. Now we had a one-point game and the Clermont fans began to believe – only to taste what Azema called “the bitterness of defeat” for the third time in a European Cup final.