Saracens vs Clermont match report: Chris Ashton and David Strettle at the double as Sarries cut loose

Saracens 30 Clermont 23: Wingers drop England hint to give Londoners a bonus-point victory in the new Champions Cup

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The Independent Online

Saracens’ wings Chris Ashton and Dave Strettle reminded England of their finishing prowess with two tries each as last season’s European runners-up started the new Champions Cup with a bonus-point win over Clermont Auvergne.

The French powerhouses picked up a bonus of their own, with former All Black wing Zac Guildford completing a blast of a day for the wide men with a try in each half. But fly-half Charlie Hodgson guided Sarries home with a gutsy 50-metre penalty to tie the scores at 23-all with 56 minutes gone, paving the way for Ashton’s decisive, opportunistic try eight minutes later.

Guildford, who recently returned to the field after being attacked in the street on a night out in France, misjudged a long punt by Hodgson, allowing the chasing Ashton to toe it on for an exultant score that Hodgson converted in addition to two second-half penalties and the extras after Strettle’s second try.

Saracens’ plan to give England fly-half Owen Farrell game-time after three weeks out injured was restricted to four minutes at the end, such was Hodgson’s masterful performance at No 10.

 

But plaudits were also due to the Saracens front five. Despite lacking three first-choice props, and seeing hooker Schalk Brits taken off on a stretcher with a twisted knee, they forced crucial late penalties from their highly-rated opponents.Billy Vunipola was another to shine, carrying hard at No 8, and slipping a lovely pass to Hodgson in the build-up to Ashton’s opening try.

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Chris Ashton goes over for a try

Clermont hit back with a try by Guildford, living up to the poker cards tattooed on his arm with the motto “all in”, converted by fly-half Camille Lopez, who added a penalty for a 10-5 lead. Strettle levelled when he finished a clever break from a tapped penalty, and after the interval, Hodgson’s penalty and a dropped goal by Lopez made it 13-13.

Guildford left Alex Goode for dead for his second try with a skilful midair catch to claim a box-kick, but another immediate response saw Strettle sidestep Fritz Lee to round off piledriving surges from Hodgson’s pop pass by Alistair Hargreaves, Brad Barritt and Vunipola.

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Zac Guildford scored two tries but in vein

Lopez nudged Clermont ahead after Ashton’s clumsy late tackle but Hodgson’s monster kick and a try ruled out for the visitors for a case of blocking  by their No 8 Damien Chouly swung the momentum Sarries’ way as they earned a heartening five match points to one before next week’s tough trip to Munster.

Line-ups:

Saracens: A Goode; C Ashton, C Wyles (M Bosch, 49), B Barritt, D Strettle; C Hodgson, R Wigglesworth (N de Kock, 50); R Barrington (R Gill, 50), J George (S Brits, 50-76), P du Plessis (J Johnston, 72), G Kruis, A Hargreaves (capt), K Brown, W Fraser (J Wray, 62), B Vunipola.

Clermont Auvergne: N Abendanon; N Nakaitaci, A Rougerie (B Stanley, 72), W Fofana, Z Guildford; C Lopez, L Radoslavjevic; T Domingo (R Chaume, 70), B Kayser, D Zirakashvili (C Ric 29-37, 41), J Cudmore (L Jacquet, 45-51), S Vahaamahina, F Lee (J Bardy, 70), J Bonnaire, D Chouly (capt).

Referee: J Lacey (Ireland).

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