Saracens 46 Clermont Auvergne 6 match report: Power play from Sarries overwhelms France’s best
Ashton contributes two tries as record-breaking display carries bloody-minded Saracens to final
Records tumbled and Clermont Auvergne crumbled as Saracens posted the highest score and widest margin of victory in a Heineken Cup semi-final, with Chris Ashton – the wing exulting in his return to Twickenham after being unwanted here by England earlier this year – grabbing two tries to set a competition-best of 11 in a season.
Some South African glitterati were present and correct – Brendan Venter, the coaching advisor, had flown in from Cape Town with Johann Rupert, the tycoon whose daughter Caroline is a Saracens board member, and another director, the former Springbok and Sarries captain Francois Pienaar. There were 11 England internationals used too, as Saracens brained their highly rated French opponents with a home-baked baguette leavened by African and Pacific muscle. In the final at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium on 24 May they will pit their self-styled wolf pack against the winners of today’s tie between Toulon and Munster.
The London club with a global outlook refused to be perturbed by Owen Farrell being unable to take his normal kicking duties, the England fly-half having burst blood vessels on the top of his foot a fortnight ago. Their other regular No 10, Charlie Hodgson was an injured non-starter. But Alex Goode was wondrously reliable from the tee and the rest of Farrell’s anatomy was in excellent working order. “There wasn’t much going to stop him getting out there,” Ashton said of Farrell. “He was limping but he was a demon in defence.”
Instead Saracens cracked on with making their own luck while almost all of Clermont’s rapidly ran out. Here was Jacques Burger cutting down Clermont’s dangerman Napolioni Nalaga with a tackle to set a brutal standard the Namibian flanker never let slip; there was Goode raiding from full-back to turn the widest channels into Saracens’ playground. There will be grumbles at Twickenham being only a third full but those wearing black and red who made the effort were rewarded with Saracens extending their run in the last competition under the current format and governance.
The crucial first strike, in the eighth minute, was a beautifully constructed try on Saracens’ left wing. They probed the short side of a ruck with interpassing between Goode, Schalk Brits and Brad Barritt to give Ashton a 25-metre run-in. It equalled the seasonal record set by Brive’s Sébastien Carrat in 1996-7, when his club were champions. Saracens’ turn this year? All in good time but – save for two penalties kicked by Morgan Parra – everything went their way before half-time.
Goode converted Ashton’s try and added the extras for a 14-3 lead after a controversial decision with 12 minutes gone. Sarries’ England loosehead Mako Vunipola charged Lee Byrne down in the visitors’ in-goal area, and as Marcelo Bosch leapt to catch the loose ball he was bumped into by Clermont’s fly-half Brock James. The ball went dead off James’s hand, and when the referee Nigel Owens consulted the television match official they decided that not only the Aussie fly-half should go to the sin-bin but that in all probability Saracens’ Argentina centre would have scored. Penalty try to Saracens; double whammy for Clermont.
They responded well. The best scrum in Europe wrested a couple of penalties out of James Johnston, the Saracens tighthead. But when the Massif Central’s finest needed a score, they butchered a try with a blocking run by Damien Chouly, and had a line-out stolen on Saracens’ goalline. So a very decent spell amounted only to Parra’s second penalty and Saracens surged anew with Goode again freeing Ashton, this time on the right, followed by a pass probably not intended for Farrell but which he turned into a try by having it bounce perfectly off his knee and grounding it. With Goode’s conversion and a penalty for not rolling away Saracens were 24-6 up. Clermont had made about 20 tackles by this point; Burger was getting through as many on his own.
When Bosch branded the early part of the second half with the kind of monster penalty kick that has endeared him to Saracens’fans – “Bosch, Bosch, Bosch” was the cry when Owens awarded a penalty one metre inside the Clermont half – it was clear that only the briefest flicker of Wesley Fofana’s running would remain as a memory of Clermont’s contribution; no happy ending for them after last May’s final loss to Toulon. While the third-placed team in France’s Top 14 were left to worry about their league – “they were shellshocked,” Burger said. “We knew they were a world-class team, we had to cut them down and take their legs away” – Saracens’ pursuit of a double and winning England’s first Heineken since Wasps in 2007 roared on.
Ashton’s second try hacking on a Clermont fumble in the 64th minute was followed in the last eight minutes by Saracens’ fifth and sixth. Ashton’s sharp break and long pass via Tim Streather and Brad Barritt put Chris Wyles over. Then Streather finished another glaring overlap in the right-hand corner. And Goode embellished the show with his fourth and fifth conversions. “A phenomenal performance built on workrate and effort,” said Mark McCall, the Saracens director rugby. Just so.
Saracens: A Goode; C Ashton, M Bosch (T Streather, 73), B Barritt, D Strettle (C Wyles, 70); O Farrell, N de Kock (R Wigglesworth, 51); M Vunipola (R Barrington, 71), S Brits (J George, 71), J Johnston (M Stevens, 46), S Borthwick (capt), M Botha (A Hargreaves, 67), K Brown, J Burger (J Wray, 70), B Vunipola.
Clermont Auvergne: L Byrne; S Sivivatu, B Stanley (N Nakaitaci, 67), W Fofana, N Nalaga; B James (M Delany, 58), M Parra (T Lacrampe, 62); T Domingo (V Debaty, 51), B Kayser (T Paulo, 58), D Zirakashvili (C Ric, 68), J Cudmore (J Pierre, 70), N Hines, J Bonnaire (capt), D Chouly, F Lee (G Vosloo, 32).
Referee: N Owens (Wales).
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