The Runner Sports

Saracens Win Back-To-Back European Champions Cup

What started as a typical gloomy Scotland morning bloomed into a decent enough day for the 2017 European Rugby Champions Cup final. Rained threatened, but never arrived at the party. Edinburgh was a buzz of red and yellow as supporters sang, drank, and gathered in the shadows of Murrayfield as Saracens and ASM Clermont Auvergne amassed their finest for European glory.

Using set pieces to great success and surgical strike kicking, the Saracens become the fourth team to win back-to-back Champions Cup, defeating the French side 28-17. Saracens finish having gone 18 matches unbeaten in Champions Cup play, a new tournament record that very well could stretch into their second title defense.

The score line will not do the French side justice in just how close they played the defending champs. A myriad of handling errors and crucial missed kick just enough to spoil their hopes.

An early Saracens lineout gained by the boot of Owen Farrell set up the first penetrating drive of the day. Sarries swung wide left and were driven inside the 5m line by Chris Ashton. Clermont’s defense stood strong and held the first score of the day at bay after a try-saving tackle by Nick Abendanon; possession ultimately won back and cleared out.

It was another set piece that created the next penetrating drive. A Clermont lineout sent the action to the right where Pereli Yato drove into Saracens territory. A Clermont handling error would send the ball back the other direction without any real threat.

The Saracens would knock a few more times before kicking the door down. Another lineout created the space for the Saracens to swing across the field where Alex Goode threaded the needle with a low bounding grubber kick which was scooped by the streaking Ashton wide for the outside try. The usually sure-footed Farrell would ring the uprights to keep things 5-0.

The try would make Chris Ashton the top try scorer in Champions Cup history, with 37.

Swirling winds would make the kicking game quite a task for much of the day. Farrell, hoping to find a bit of redemption for the earlier missed conversion, crushed a ball from just inside midfield on a penalty kick but came up just short.

Saracens dominated much of the first half’s possession, exhausting the staunch Clermont defense and suffocating them in their own territory.

After some sweeping action from left to right and a nice approach up the gut to the try line, George Kruis found the offload to barrel over for the try. Farrell’s foot would be true this time, and the lead extended to 12-0.

Plagued by early penalties, Clermont capitalized on one of their own at last, finding the corner on a monstrous kick. Pounding the line over and over again until a scrum finally lit the path up the center. Aurelien Rougerie streaked to the post but upon being stopped just shy found Remi Lamerat in support, who toppled over to put Clermont on the board, but still trailing 12-7 following the conversion.

Clermont found some legs following the score, spending regular time in the Saracens’ half in the waning minutes of the first 40. Despite the extended possession in attacking territory, they would fail to chip away further before the break; even after a chippy shoving match sparked by Michael Rhodes gave them a chance to kick deep into scoring territory one final time late. Jackson Wray made an interception and nearly made a clean run for the try, dashing the Clermont threat, but solid work from the Clermont backs shut the door, keeping things 12-7 after the first 40.

After an exhausting attack, one in which Clermont looked determined to fight off, a penalty for failing to roll away opened the scoring in the second half as Owen Farrell rocketed one through the uprights from within 5m; extending the lead 15-7.

On the ensuing restart, Clermont charged through the Sarries’ despondent defense. The action went wide left where Pereli Yato drew the final defenders before offloading to Nick Abendanon along the touchline, who ran in for the try unscathed to bring ASM to within one, 15-14.

Nigel Owens, who sported some clean white Underarmor kicks with “100th Champions Cup Match” emblazoned on the side, gave plenty of leeway to Clermont despite two penalties within the 5m line within the course of five minutes and a questionably deliberate knock-on to prevent a swinging attack at the 5m line. Dejected in being unable to persuade the “mouth and whistle of Wales,” Sarries kicked over to gain some breathing room going up 18-14.

Full of quick responses, it was just three minutes later when Clermont’s Morgan Parra found refuge between the posts to bring the match back to within one as the match made a turn for the final quarter of play.

Clermont made a point to attack the breakdowns very aggressively early and often and they overtook a number of possessions by such tactics. No doubt frustrating the reeling Saracens who found little time in this match without Clermont players beating down upon them.

Nigel Owens would inject himself into play again at the 66th-minute mark. After penetrating to the left, Saracens would swing right before a Camille Lopez knock-on broke the attack up. Saracens were up in arms considering the knock-on that thwarted the score previously. Standing strong to his gun on it not being a deliberate attempt and a legitimate try to make the interception, Owens kept the cards in his pocket and after a stout defensive stand from Parra, the Sarries were cleared with nothing to show for the solid attack.

Not permanently impeded, Sarries were back minutes later where they found Alex Goode wide to the right who broke through the splintered defense for the try. Farrell would convert the crucial kick from wide to push the lead to eight, 25-17, with six minutes to go.

As they had all match, Clermont was fierce on the restart, earning a penalty near the quarter field mark almost instantly. Camille Lopez pushed the kick wide left, though, undoing any hope of a rally.

Farrell would punch in a penalty kick at the 78th minute to secure the win. Billy Vunipola named the man of the match.

Clermont fall in the Champions Cup final for a third time in five years, failing to ever secure the cup in club history.

Meanwhile, the Saracens will enter next season in hopes of doing what just one team has done in the history of the Champions Cup, that in winning three in a row. A Premiership title still remains up for grabs as they seek a second straight double title season.

 

Tyler Arnold

Tyler Arnold

I am the founder and editor-in-chief of The Runner Sports. I've been an avid sports fan since I was a child and have turned that love into a profession. I will watch, comment, and break down anything I can get my hands on, from football to white water rafting in the Olympics. Your visit means a lot to me, so thank you for your readership.
Tyler Arnold

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