Saracens beat Clermont Auvergne to retain the European Champions Cup as Chris Ashton makes history

Clermont Auvergne 17 Saracens 28: Ashton's 37th European try plus tries from George Kruis and Alex Goode secures back-to-back Champions Cup wins for Sarries

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The Independent Online

Alex Goode’s try eight minutes from the end and a surging display of gainline battering by man-of-the-match Billy Vunipola launched Saracens into the pantheon of European trophy-gatherers, as they became the fourth club after Leicester Tigers, Leinster and Toulon to retain the European Champions Cup.

Saracens were never headed once Chris Ashton had hurtled to a record-breaking 37th try in this competition in the 13th minute, but nor was this repeat success in any way easy for the proud title-holders as Clermont Auvergne fought back from a 12-point deficit to make a thunderous final in Edinburgh.

Saracens’ England fly-half Owen Farrell was named European Cup player of the year as his team-mates paraded the trophy round the home of Scottish rugby, as another sign of the winners’ continuing magnificence – this was Sarries’ 10th straight victory in knockout matches in Europe and the Premiership.

And if they can extend that amazing run through next Saturday’s Premiership play-off semi-final away to Exeter Chiefs, and the final at Twickenham on 27 May, the London club will emulate Leicester Tigers in 2001 and 2002 by completing the ‘double double’ of English league and European Cup.

Saracens took the field in a slow march, reminiscent of Scotland’s celebrated 1990 Grand Slam team but once the whistle blew the champions roared out of the blocks, and almost scored through Ashton in the first 60 seconds.

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It didn't take long for Ashton to cross the try-line (Getty)

It needed great cover by Nick Abendanon, one of Clermont’s two English exiles with his fellow wing Dave Strettle, to cut Ashton down.

But Ashton’s moment came soon enough, as he raced onto Goode’s grubber kick through the Clermont threequarter line and celebrated his record score, one ahead of Vincent Clerc of Toulouse with a trademark ‘Ash Splash’.

Up to that point, Farrell had been the only Saracen to score in a European Cup final, the fly-half having kicked seven penalties to beat Racing 92 in Lyon last year, and two penalties in the loss to Toulon in Cardiff in 2014 that played a big part in the making of this powerful squad.

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Clermont's fans were made to suffer once again (Getty)

Now Farrell’s conversion attempt hit a post, and that was followed by an optimistic 49-metre penalty shot landing short in a tricky wind – but maybe the decision itself spoke of the early confidence surging through Saracens.

They had their second try on 21 minutes when England lock George Kruis crashed over at the posts, following a punishing series of pick-and-go drives.

Farrell converted for 12-0 and it felt as if Clermont’s stigma of perennially failing in finals – including in both their previous appearances in this tournament’s showpiece, against Toulon in Dublin in 2013 and at Twickenham two years later – had returned to dog the French club and the thousands of their ‘yellow army’ inside a colourful Murrayfield.

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Farrell had a superb game for the winning side (Getty)

Fortunately for the spectacle on offer, Clermont did not fold and in a dominant last 15 minutes before the interval they nabbed the only try conceded by Saracens in first-half European rugby this season.

Clermont twice kicked penalties for line-outs in the Saracens 22, instead of going for goal, and were rewarded when the veteran centre Aurelien Rougerie gained a half-metre of space on the end of a lovely flat pass by Morgan Parra, and his midfield mate Remi Lamerat finished it off, with scrum-half Parra adding the conversion.

Just as perturbing for Saracens were the three penalties and one knock-on turnover they conceded in their opponents’ 22 in the first half, frittering away excellent positions.

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Captain Brad Barritt kisses the trophy (Getty)

The breakdown punishment continued after half-time – which Exeter will surely take note of – ands after a penalty by Farrell, Clermont closed the gap to 15-14 with a spectacular touchline run and offload by flanker Peceli Yato finished by Abendanon and converted by Parra.

Saracens needed all their big-match reliability, with Schalk Burger a key influence from the bench, as another penalty piece made it 18-17 going into the last quarter.

A great chance for Saracens was missed when they Lopez managed to spoil an overlap, then Abendanon bravely halted a clattering blindside charge for the line by Vunipola off a scrum.

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The Vunipola brothers celebrate with their family (Getty)

The next score was clearly going to be crucial and Goode got it for Saracens, as a scrum wide on the left gave them an open field to attack, Maro Itoje and Vunipola drove hard into Clermont’s guts, and the gap opened for Sarries’ full-back to sail through.

Farrell converted for 25-17, with his dad Andy, the Lions assistant coach, looking on, and when Lopez missed a penalty from middling range soon afterwards, having earlier put a drop-goal shot wide, brave Clermont knew the game was up.

Farrell’s penalty goal in 78 minutes came with Saracens’ substitutes and staff massed on the touchline, already starting the celebrations – it was deja vu, in fact, as they had finished against Racing 12 months ago in just the same, triumphal fashion.

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Goode and Ashton celebrate after the final whistle (Getty)

Scorers:

Clermont Auvergne: tries: Lamerat, Abendanon; conversions: Parra 2; penalty: Parra.

Saracens: tries: Ashton, Kruis, Goode; conversions: Farrell 2; penalties: Farrell 3.

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 (capt), P Yato, F Lee.

Replacements: J Ulugia, E Falgoux, A Jarvis, P Jedrasiak, A Lapandry, L Radosavljevic, P Fernandez, D Penaud.

Saracens: A Goode; C Ashton, M Bosch, B Barritt (capt), C Wyles; O Farrell, R Wigglesworth; M Vunipola, J George, V Koch, M Itoje, G Kruis, M Rhodes, J Wray, B Vunipola.

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