Saracens remain Europe's best
CHAMPIONS CUP REPORT: Saracens secured a 28-17 victory over Clermont Auvergne in a thrilling European Champions Cup final at Murrayfield that entertained from first minute to last.
It means Mark McCall's men sealed Champions Cup glory for the second consecutive season, but they were pushed all the way by a resilient Clermont outfit. Time and again it looked like Saracens would pull away, only for the French giants to respond.
Chris Ashton and George Kruis crossed for Saracens before the break, only for Remi Lamerat and Nick Abendanon to hit back. It was a contest which enthralled a packed Edinburgh crowd, with the kicking of Owen Farrell and Morgan Parra adding to the finest of European encounters.
In the end, though, it was Saracens who came out on top as Alex Goode put the nail in Clermont's coffin with his team's vital third try in the 73rd minute. Farrell converted and added his third penalty and it was time for Saracens to start their Champions Cup party.
Clermont flyhalf Camille Lopez had got the game started, but it was Saracens who were quickest out the blocks. The was just two minutes on the clock when Marcelo Bosch scythed through and freed Ashton.
The English wing looked certain to score, only for Abendanon to pull off a try-saving tackle to keep the game scoreless. Ashton had been denied on that occasion, but his team's dominance meant it wasn't long before he was on the scoresheet.
A line-out move off the top saw Farrell find Goode, the fullback's inch perfect chip through finding Ashton who dived over in trademark fashion for his 37th Champions Cup try. It means the former Northampton Saint is now the tournament's leading all time try scorer.
Farrell struck the post with the conversion and then fell short with a monster penalty, but Saracens were still the game's dominant force and their second try soon arrived. Clermont simply couldn't exit their 22, the pressure finally telling when Kruis powered over from close range. This time, Farrell added the simple extras.
At that stage a one-sided final looked likely, but Clermont responded quickly. After Maro Itoje was penalised for offside, Lopez turned down the option of three points to kick to the corner.
The decision paid off, Aurelien Rougerie's half break from the line-out allowing his midfield partner Lamerat to put Clermont on the scoreboard. Parra converted.
Lamerat's score was the first try Saracens had conceded in the opening 40 minutes of a Champions Cup game this season and meant there were just five points between the sides at the break.
Lopez started the second half with a missed drop goal attempt and Farrell showed him how it should be done by kicking a simple penalty after Clermont were penalised for not rolling away. Then came a score fit to grace any final.
Scott Spedding and captain Damien Chouly led a Clermont length-of-the-field effort, the pair helping to run the ball back from their own 22. Lopez then spread the ball left to Peceli Yato who shrugged off Farell to feed Abendanon. The wing did the rest by sprinting clear to score. Parra added the extras to a special score.
The game continued to ebb and flow, Farrell and Parra exchanging kicks at goal to take the game into its final quarter with the result very much still in the balance. Nerves started to tell, with both teams well aware of what was at stake.
Clermont No.8 Fritz Lee departed the field for a head injury assessment and then returned to the field, while Saracens thought Lopez should have been yellow carded for a deliberate knock-on as Chris Wyles' pass looked like making its way to Ashton outside him.
Referee Nigel Owens, on his 100th European appearance, decided not to sin bin the Frenchman, but the resulting scrum gave Saracens the field position from which they secured victory.
They based themselves in the Clermont 22 for the final 10 minutes, eventually breaking through for Goode to score in the corner. His effort sparked wild celebrations and with Farrell converting and kicking a late penalty, the job was done and dusted as Clermont were left thinking what might have been.
Man of the match: Morgan Parra was a thorn in Saracens' side as he dictated terms for the French outfit while Camille Lopez' tactical kicking kept Saracens honest in defence and under the high ball. Remi Lamerat carried strongly and opened a few gaps. Scott Spedding came into his own in the second half as he grew in confidence with more carries. Owen Farrell proved that he was not just a kicking flyhalf as he put in a few big tackles and also got his runners going with some nifty offloads. Chris Ashton put in a strong performance to end his Saracens' career on a high note while Vincent Koch was involved in nearly every facet. Our award though goes to a man who carried strongly, worked tirelessly at the breakdowns and was not scared to get stuck in - Billy Vunipola.
For Clermont Auvergne:
Tries: Lamerat, Abendanon
Cons: Parra 2
Tries: Ashton, Kruis, Goode
Cons: Farrell 2
Pens: Farrell 3
Clermont Auvergne: 15 Scott Spedding, 14 David Strettle, 13 Aurélien Rougerie, 12 Remi Lamerat, 11 Nick Abendanon, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Peceli Yato, 6 Damien Chouly, 5 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 4 Arthur Iturria, 3 Davit Zirakashvili, 2 Benjamin Kayser, 1 Raphael Chaume.
Replacements: 16 John Ulugia, 17 Etienne Falgoux, 18 Aaron Jarvis, 19 Paul Jedrasiak, 20 Alexandre Lapandry, 21 Ludovic Radosavljevic , 22 Pato Fernandez, 23 Damian Penaud
Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Brad Barritt (captain), 11 Chris Wyles, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Jackson Wray, 6 Michael Rhodes, 5 George Kruis, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Schalk Brits, 17 Titi Lamositele, 18 Petrus du Plessis, 19 Jim Hamilton, 20 Schalk Burger, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Alex Lozowski, 23 Duncan Taylor.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: George Clancy (Ireland), Ian Davies (Wales)
TMO: Jon Mason (Wales)