Clermont advance to Euro final

Date published: April 18 2015

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Clermont's power drove them to the European Cup Final at Twickenham in May with a 13-9 victory over Saracens.

Wesley Fofana's try in the second half was ultimately decisive, as Clermont made it back to the European final for the second time in three years.

A punishing battle between two huge sides, a couple of missed penalties from the boot of Charlie Hodgson in the end had a major impact.

Two of Europe's famous bridesmaids actually met twice in this year's pool stages, sharing a win apiece and both desperate to make it one step further in this competition having lost in recent finals.

Saint-Étienne was a well-liked venue during the 2007 Rugby World Cup and the pre-match atmopshere eight years later was equally world class, as Clermont's yellow army made their voices heard as part of a 41,500 crowd.

Northampton wilted under that level of noise two weeks ago at the Stade Marcel Michelin having been desperate to keep Clermont quiet early on. Unsurprisingly that was also the aspiration for Saracens and they made it happen, matching Clermont's early surges and landing the first points with a drop goal from Hodgson.

There were errors though, enough of them to let the air out of the pre-match hype as the scrum had several early workouts.

Clermont trailed after Hodgson's drop goal but they should have been awarded a penalty try after Naipolioni Nalaga was denied a score in the corner by an illegal no-arms tackle from Chris Ashton.

The incident wasn't even reviewed by the television match official after ruling that Nalaga had been pushed out into touch, despite the obvious lack of arms in Ashton's desperate contact. Semi-finals hinge on those big moments.

Clermont returned to the Saracens half with Brock James adding the first penalty for his side after the Englishmen infringed at the breakdown, tying the scores at 3-3.

Hodgson couldn't respond with a long-range effort but his miss gave him a valuable sighter ahead of his next attempt, restoring Saracens lead.

The major error regarding Ashton's tackle aside, referee George Clancy kept a firm enough grip on a tense contest which demanded an authoratitive showing from the man with the whistle.

Every scrum required the closest attention and Hodgson had another chance from the tee after Clermont were pulled up for wheeling, but he couldn't find the posts. Still, his side led 6-3 heading into the sheds.

Given the number of monster tackles and level of physicality on show, it was actually a clever touch of skill from Brock James that put Clermont into the lead for the first time.

Starting from Damien Chouly's huge carry off the base of the scrum, James chipped over the top of the defensive line into space with Fofana the fastest man to the ball for a very well-worked score.

Saracens had to react as Clermont introduced Morgan Parra off the bench and their best weapon for moving the ball upfield once again was Billy Vunipola with his frequent carries, but Clermont more often than not had all the answers.

Alex Goode's input, with an excellent take under the high ball and then kick ahead into space, gave Saracens a huge chance when Nalaga knocked on deep in his own 22. 

The English side had to make their territory count and a scrum penalty did hand Owen Farrell, on his first appearance for three months, the chance to cut the deficit to a point which he took with a penalty that on first glance was close to going wide.

A tense finish felt like the only outcome as Saracens again won a penalty not far short of their own try line, although their missed tackle count was rising.

Clermont's rush defence and the work of Sébastien Vahaamahina enabled to James to add a further three points and ease the home side's nerves, with the clock now working against Saracens.

Keeping their passes immaculate and making no errors was always going to a huge ask of Saracens in the dying stages as Clermont's pack took charge, squeezing out the final minutes with purposeful mauls and carries much to the crowd's delight until full-time.

Clermont now have their revenge after last season's thrashing at Twickenham at the same stage, but their eyes will be on something much sweeter, a first ever European title at Twickenham against Toulon or Leinster.

The scorers:

For Clermont:
Tries: Fofana
Cons: James
Pens: James 2

For Saracens:

Pens: Hodgson, Farrell

Drop Goal: Hodgson

Clermont: 15 Nick Abendanon, 14 Noa Nakaitaci, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Naipolioni Nalaga, 10 Brock James, 9 Ludovic Radoslavjevic, 8 Damien Chouly (c), 7 Julien Bardy, 6 Julien Bonnaire, 5 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 4 Jamie Cudmore, 3 Davit Zirakashvili, 2 Benjamin Kayser, 1 Vincent Debaty.
Replacements: 16 John Ulugia, 17 Raphael Chaume, 18 Clément Ric, 19 Julien Pierre, 20 Alexandre Lapandry, 21 Morgan Parra, 22 Camille Lopez, 23 Aurélien Rougerie.

Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Brad Barritt (c), 11 Chris Wyles, 10 Charlie Hodgson, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Jacques Burger, 6 Maro Itoje, 5 Jim Hamilton, 4 George Kruis, 3 Petrus du Plessis, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Schalk Brits, 17 Rhys Gill, 18 James Johnston, 19 Kelly Brown, 20 Jackson Wray, 21 Neil de Kock, 22 Owen Farrell, 23 David Strettle.

Referee: George Clancy (Ire)
Assistant Referees: Leighton Hodges (Wal), Dudley Phillips (Ire)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ire)

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