Clermont catch poor Saracens between a Brock and a hard place

Saracens 3 Clermont Auvergne 22

Vicarage Road

The Heineken Cup administrators chose yesterday to premiere the tournament's official anthem, penned by the French composer Jean-Michel Jarre under the intriguing title "Industrial Revolution Part 2". What had happened to "Industrial Revolution Part 1" was anybody's guess: perhaps it suffered the same fate as British manufacturing. Still, it was amusing to hear music of that name played for the first time in a country with no industry, to celebrate a competition preparing to shed its last contender from the Premiership.

There were two striking features in the run-up to kick-off, one of them surprising, the other rather less so. To take the unusual aspect first, it was satisfying – perhaps even a little spine-tingling – to see Vicarage Road, a very English kind of run-down sporting dump with its half-pound deathburgers and boarded-up public lavatories, transformed into a vibrantly colourful, wonderfully noisy corner of the French rugby landscape. More than 2,000 supporters travelled from the Auvergne to watch their side, and the racket they kicked up suggested there were five times that number in the ground.

As for the other aspect, this took the form of an entirely predictable blast from the Saracens chairman, Nigel Wray, about the iniquities and inequalities of the Heineken Cup. "It's a great tournament, but the structure is completely wrong," he said, breathing fresh life into the age-old arguments about qualification and funding. And he had a point: Irish, Italian, Scottish and Welsh teams can, and often do, gear their seasons towards maximising performance in Europe, helped by a Pro12 "domestic" league that spares them the fears and neuroses attached to relegation.

It is also true, as Wray reminded his audience, that the better-heeled Premiership sides are tied by their salary cap. Clermont turned up with five French internationals, a stellar All Black and a Lions Test player - and that was only the back division. You don't put together units like that on an annual budget of £4.4m. But the ever-generous benefactor could have picked a better moment to unburden himself. The back end of a season in which Premiership clubs bombed out of both European competitions at the quarter-final stage is hardly the optimum time to call for a 33 per cent hike in red-rose representation at Heineken Cup level.

Mark McCall, his director of rugby, agreed with the arguments descending from on high. "You could see the imbalance generated by the salary cap when you looked out onto the pitch," he said after the match, "and the fact that their are no English semi-finalists in Europe speaks for itself." But he was also commendably honest about his side's shortcomings. "That was pretty sobering for us," he admitted. "We said pre-game that we didn't want it to be a learning experience. We thought we were ready."

Clermont, champions of France in 2010 and beaten semi-finalists a year ago, lost one of those high-calibre backs of theirs, the outside-half David Skrela, inside three minutes. The goalkicker's left leg gave way during the opening attack of the afternoon, launched from deep by the inventive Alex Goode, and he was forced to give way to Brock James, who proceeded to land three penalties in the twinkle of an eye. "Who was the idiot responsible for doing Skrela a mischief?" muttered one member of the Saracens management, with considerable feeling.

This same James had suffered a very public and horribly personal meltdown at the last-eight stage of the 2009-10 tournament: indeed, his frailties that night were entirely responsible for Clermont's one-point defeat against Leinster in Dublin. Here, he looked as though he could not miss: until, that is, he missed – from a difficult position in right field, 40-plus metres from the sticks. He would miss again before the half was out, but as this was from the best part of 60 metres, only a very harsh critic would have accused him of falling apart on this occasion.

Saracens, restricted to a single Owen Farrell penalty in the first period, had plenty of food for thought at the interval. If the English champions were losing the tactical kicking deal, they were also being beaten in the aerial contest and leaking penalties at the scrum, and while they had fought back well at a couple of late set-pieces, there was no guarantee that the formidable Georgian prop Davit Zirakashvili would not find his second wind.

Three minutes after the restart, the home side had so much to think about, their collective brain was on the point of exploding. Three Clermont tight forwards – the prop Lionel Faure, the hooker Benjamin Kayser and the lock Nathan Hines – made big ground through the heavy traffic to create some elbow room for their magnificent captain, Aurélien Rougerie. The outsized centre set sail towards the Saracens line before off-loading to Morgan Parra out of Chris Wyles' tackle. Parra could have dummied Goode and scored himself; instead, he flicked the ball to Lee Byrne, who duly finished in the right corner.

James added the wide-angled extras, and when he dropped a goal from the back end of beyond five minutes later, Saracens were on the rough end of a thorough towelling. For every attacking spark from Goode, there was an indiscretion under pressure from Sarries' beaten pack. When a driving Clermont maul hit the deck midway through the third quarter, James dispensed another three-pointer. The contest was never less than hard, but it was always less then close.

With Farrell hobbling off, his fellow centre Brad Barritt tackling himself into oblivion and the young flanker Will Fraser disappearing into la-la land, Saracens ended up with a wing in midfield and a hooker in the back row. They were, to put it mildly, all over the place - and as a symbol of England's current fortunes in world rugby's most captivating annual jamboree, it could not possibly have been bettered.

Saracens: Penalty Farrell. Clermont Auvergne: Try Byrne; Conversion James; Penalties James 4; Drop goal James.

Saracens A Goode; D Strettle, O Farrell (J Short, 54), B Barritt (A Powell, 66), C Wyles; C Hodgson, R Wigglesworth (N de Kock, 54); R Gill (M Vunipola, 64), S Brits, M Stevens (C Nieto, 68), S Borthwick (capt), M Botha (G Kruis, 54), J Melck (J Wray, 50), W Fraser (J George, 66), E Joubert.

Clermont Auvergne L Byrne; S Sivivatu, A Rougerie (capt), W Fofana, J Malzieu; D Skrela (B James, 3), M Parra (L Radoslavjevic, 76); L Faure (V Debaty, 49), B Kayser (T Paulo, 58), D Zirakashvili (D Kotze, 56), J Cudmore (J Pierre, 54), N Hines, J Bonnaire, A Lapandry, E Vermeulen (J Bardy, 54).

Referee: A Rolland (Ireland).

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
scotland decidesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmSo what makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week