McCall: More to come from 'hungry' Saracens

Sun, 14 May 2017 04:47

EUROPEAN CUP FINAL REACTION: Saracens boss Mark McCall said "there's no reason why we can't get better" after his side beat Clermont 28-17 to win back-to-back European Champions Cup titles.

Unlike last year's 21-9 final win over Clermont's French rivals Racing 92, where England's Owen Farrell kicked all of Saracens' points in a match where neither side managed a try, Saturday's clash at Murrayfield was a far more exciting contest.

Saracens, belying their reputation as a dour, forward-orientated team, almost scored a try in the second minute.

In any case, McCall's men were 12-0 up following the end of the opening quarter after Chris Ashton, bound for France with Toulon, scored a tournament career record 37th try and England lock George Kruis also crossed Clermont's line.

Clermont, who came into the match with a reputation for blistering starts, fought back thanks to Remi Lamerat's first-half try before English wing Nick Abendanon crowned a length of the field move for a superb score in the 51st minute.

Morgan Parra's penalty left Clermont just a point behind at 17-18 heading into the final quarter before Saracens pulled clear, with fullback Alex Goode's try seven minutes from time putting the London club two scores clear after Farrell converted.

Victory left Saracens, the reigning English champions, just two matches away from completing a 'double Double' and with the likes of Farrell (25) and man-of-the-match Billy Vunipola (24) still having plenty of rugby to look forward to barring injury.

"I think the pleasing thing was it felt and looked like we had improved from last year," said McCall, whose side face Exeter in the English Premiership semifinal play-offs.

"It was a different kind of final from last year and allowed us to show different signs of ourselves," the former Ireland centre added.

"I thought we showed a lot of great qualities.We think the age profile of the group is good and if we're hungry enough, we're hungry enough so there's no reason why we can't get better."

Having seen Saracens charge into an early lead, McCall was proud of the composure his players displayed to weather Clermont's fightback in Edinburgh.

"It is great to win back-to-back [finals] but the manner in which we did it was the hugely encouraging thing," Saracens' Director of Rugby explained.

"It felt we were dominant for long periods - with a strong scrum and line-out we dominated territory and attacked very well - but we were never away on the scoreboard.

"It was one of those games where they scored their 100-metre try, a great try, but our reaction was outstanding.

"We really attacked the game for the last 20 minutes, kicked behind them and put them under pressure, and I think we got what we deserved at the end."

For Clermont, still searching for a first major European crown,  and their huge travelling 'Yellow Army' of supporters, it was yet another miserable day in a showpiece match.

Saturday's reverse was their third European Cup final defeat, with Clermont also having lost 11 of their 12 appearances in France's Top 14 title-decider.

But they could end the season as champions of France, with Clermont facing either Montpellier or Racing 92 in a Top 14 semi-final in Marseilles in a fortnight.

"We didn't give up, we didn't break, but Saracens were favourites and it showed," said Franck Azema, the Clermont coach.

"We weren't able to reverse the pressure.

"Of course we believed we could win after our second try but they put us under pressure all the time."

Nevertheless, a defiant Azema added: "Our group is strong, we have a great team. I don't think we should be ashamed of this game.

"We have to accept the bitterness of this loss, people will say 'Clermont can they react?, but we will focus on the next match.

"The boys are not giving up. We still have one competition to win."

Agence France-Presse

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EUROPEAN CUP
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Pool 1
Team P W D L Pts
La Rochelle 6 4 0 2 20
Wasps 6 3 0 3 17
Ulster 6 4 0 2 17
Harlequins 6 1 0 5 7
Pool 2
Team P W D L Pts
Clermont Auvergne 6 5 0 1 22
Saracens 6 3 1 2 18
Ospreys 6 2 1 3 15
Northampton Saints 6 1 0 5 6
Pool 3
Team P W D L Pts
Leinster 6 6 0 0 27
Exeter Chiefs 6 3 0 3 15
Montpellier 6 2 0 4 13
Glasgow Warriors 6 1 0 5 7
Pool 4
Team P W D L Pts
Munster 6 4 1 1 21
Racing Metro 6 4 0 2 19
Castres 6 2 1 3 12
Leicester Tigers 6 1 0 5 7
Pool 5
Team P W D L Pts
Scarlets 6 4 0 2 21
Toulon 6 4 0 2 19
Bath 6 4 0 2 18
Treviso 6 0 0 5 4