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ASM Clermont-Auvergne 17 Saracens 28: Champions Saracens too strong for Clermont at Murrayfield

Alex Goode scores the crucial try to lift Saracens to retain the European Rugby Champions Cup.
Alex Goode scores the crucial try to lift Saracens to retain the European Rugby Champions Cup.

Relentless Saracens retained the European Rugby Champions Cup by slowly draining the energy from Clermont-Auvergne and eventually finishing them off in the dying minutes of a pulsating final at BT Murrayfield.

Alex Goode’s try with five minutes left finally ended the plucky resistance of the French side who had defended desperately and scored two tries themselves with a paucity of possession.

But Saracens made far fewer errors and their better fitness and stronger bench told in the end, although had they taken all their scoring chances they might have been out of sight long before their full-back’s crucial score.

Clermont scored the maybe the best try seen in a European final with a length of the field score finished by Nick Abendanon, but that and Remi Lamerat’s first half try were brief interludes in the same kind of dominance Saracens exerted on Glasgow and Munster in their last two matches on the competition.

Chris Ashton and George Kruis scored the first half tries for the English champions and Owen Farrell kicked three second half penalties. Man of the match was the power-running Billy Vunipola but it was a pure team effort from Saracens, every one of them a vital part of the superbly drilled machine that simply wears down the opposition.

The first half belonged to the champions in terms of the ball and territory, but they would have considered a 12-7 lead to be a poor return for their superiority.

Right from the start they went for the Clermont defence out wide and Ashton popped up on the wrong win after a Marcelo Bosch break only for Abendanon to make a brilliant last gasp cover tackle on his former England colleague.

The French had one thrilling attack from their own 22 with big open side Peceli Yato galloping down the touchline, but a fumble gave the ball back and Saracens resumed their siege.

And in 13 minutes they broke through, from a lineout drive with a penalty advantage Farrell swung it wide, Goode’s perfect grubber behind Scott Spedding sat up for Ashton and the wing had room for his trademark dive in the corner.

Only that meant Farrell had a tougher conversion and he hit the post, but it didn’t seem to matter even after the stand-off was short with a penalty from near halfway.

A silly penalty by Dave Strettle gave Saracens field position again, and after Goode was only just halted short of the line lock Kruis was unstoppable from just a couple of metres out near the posts, Farrell adding the conversion.

Clermont needed some ball and some points desperately and they got some when Camille Lopez’ penalty set up two driving lineouts, the second seeing veteran Aurelien Rougerie held just short but centre partner Lamerat wrenched the ball clear and dived over.

Parra added the conversion abut that was the extent of Clermont’s first half scoring chances and it took two turnover penalties in the shadow of their own posts and a try-saving tackle by Lopez on Jackson Wray to keep the deficit to just five points at the break.

Clermont had a little more ball to start the second half but a nifty cross kick move was halted by a scrambling Saracens defence and an error by Lopez kicking out on the full handed the initiative back to the champions.

They were pressing close to the line when Clermont infringed allowing Farrell to stretch the lead with a simple penalty, but as Saracens went for the kill they were set back on their heels by the try of the tournament.

Spedding started it fielding the ball near his own line and racing out, supported by Chouly and the captain rumbled on to halfway.

From there Parra and Lopez spun it and set Yato away, the big flanker swatting aside Farrell before off-loading for Abendanon to complete the fabulous length of the field score, converted by Parra.

A fumble at the restart put pressure back on Clermont and Farrell kicked a penalty after they wilted, but Saracens gave the three points right back by fumbling their restart and getting penalised at the resulting scrum, Parra reducing the gap back to a point.

Despite that lift Clermont suddenly looked drained of energy and Saracens threatened again, Lopez having to try a desperate intercept to stop a man overlap and then Billy Vunipola being shoved into touch as he tried to pick and go from a scrum.

But the French seemed out of gas and unable to clear their lines, and eventually Saracens made a chance count, Goode spinning around to slide through a gap to score although the French thought two Saracens had knocked on in the build up.

Nigel Owens wouldn’t go back to the TMO however and Farrell converted leaving Clermont with just five minutes to make up eight points.

Lopez missed a penalty to reduce the gap and instead Farrell’s third penalty of the half with two minutes left confirmed the champions would retain the trophy.

Att: 55,272

ASM Clermont Auvergne: S Spedding; D Strettle, A Rougerie, R Lamerat, N Abendanon; C Lopez, M Parra; R Chaume, B Kayser, D Zirakashvili; A Iturria, S Vahaamahina; D Chouly (c), P Yato, F Lee.
Replacements: J Ulugia for Kayser 67, E Falgoux for Chaume 53, A Jarvis for Zirakashvili 77, P Jedrasiak for Vahaamahina 45, A Lapandry for Yato 62, L Radosavljevic for Parra 74, P Fernandez for Spedding 70 , D Penaud for Rougerie 53.
Saracens: A Goode; C Ashton, M Bosch, B Barritt (c), C Wyles; O Farrell, R Wigglesworth; M Vunipola, J George, V Koch; M Itoje, G Kruis; M Rhodes, J Wray, B Vunipola.
Replacements: S Brits for George 50, T Lamositele for M Vunipola 77, P du Plessis for Koch 77, J Hamilton for Itoje 78, S Burger for Wray 61, B Spencer for Wigglesworth 78, A Lozowski for Wyles 78, D Taylor for Barrit 53.

Ref: N Owen (WRU)