It turned out to be a good weekend for English clubs in the Champions Cup, with four of them reaching the quarter-finals, but that success came at a high price for England coach Stuart Lancaster.
Having seen Geoff Parling leave Leicester Tigers’ defeat in Ulster with a knee problem and Kyle Eastmond get hauled off at Bath with a damaged left shoulder, the final straw came when Owen Farrell walked off after only 18 minutes here at Stade Marcel Michelin.
Saracens officials were tight-lipped about the extent of the injury, but replays showed his left leg being twisted underneath him in a judo style tackle by Clermont Auvergne’s Portuguese flanker Julien Bardy.
Results earlier in the day meant both teams knew they were in the quarter-finals. Saracens could have only missed the cut if they lost by more than 35 points.
That was never likely to happen and so the fight was for the right to host a game in the last eight in April. In the end Clermont’s incessant power play got them a 22nd successive home win in Europe and earned them a home quarter-final against Northampton, while Saracens now have to travel to No 1 seeds Racing Métro.
“The game got away from us when Dave Strettle got sent to the sin-bin. It is disappointing because we really felt we had a chance to win, but we underperformed,” said the Saracens director of rugby, Mark McCall.
“The first-half was pretty even and overall we were better without the ball than we were with it. We defended OK, but the game swung on the two yellow cards – they made the most of the extra man when Strettle was off, while we didn’t.”
McCall was right to praise his side’s defensive display and that was what kept them in the contest from start to finish. They found themselves 10 points down after Camille Lopez opened the scoring with a penalty and then converted a try from Nick Abendanon, who picked a beautiful line between Alistair Hargreaves and Richard Wigglesworth to cross at the posts.
It did not help the Saracens cause that both Farrell and his replacement Charlie Hodgson missed with their first goal kicks, but the latter knocked over penalties either side of the break to cut the gap to four points.
But whereas Saracens scored three points with a one-man advantage, Clermont grabbed five when Strettle was off for flooring Abendanon with an illegal shoulder charge. Lopez kicked to the corner, Bardy won the line-out and five drives later the replacement prop Vincent Debaty claimed the try. Brock James completed the victory with a late penalty.
Clermont: Tries Abendanon, Debaty; Conversion Lopez; Penalty Lopez, James. Saracens: Penalties Hodgson 2.
Clermont Auvergne N Abendanon; N Nakaitaci, J Davies, W Fofana, N Nalaga; C Lopez (B James, 62), M Parra; T Domingo (V Debaty 50), B Kayser (J Ulugia, 70), D Zirakashvili, J Pierre (L Jacquet, 70), S Vahaamahina, D Chouly (captain), J Bardy (J, Bonnaire 53), F Lee.
Saracens A Goode; C Ashton, C Wyles, B Barritt (T Streather, 78), D Strettle; O Farrell (C Hodgson, 18), R Wigglesworth (N de Kock, 54); M Vunipola (R Barrington, 77), J George (B Sharman, 77), P du Plessis (J Johnston, 54), J Hamilton (M Itoje, 77), A Hargreaves (captain), K Brown (E Joubert, 58), J Burger, B Vunipola.
Referee G Clancy (IRFU).Reuse content