Planet Rugby

Six-star Saracens thrash Clermont

26th April 2014 17:36

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Knee nudge: Owen Farrell

Saracens slaughtered Clermont Auvergne with a 46-6 thrashing at Twickenham to book their place in the Heineken Cup Final on Saturday.

Six tries and a brickwall defensive effort confirmed Saracens' path to their first major European final in some style after some early controversy.

Much of the talk centred initially around the refereeing decisions by Nigel Owens over the Penalty Try for Saracens and no-try for Clermont in the first half, but Saracens for the most part made their own luck through uncompromising defence and an astute kicking game, along with taking their chances when they came.

Clermont simply were stunned by the opening flurry of tries and never found their grip in the contest, their best attacking efforts coming to nothing. By the end they had been completely humbled, giving up long before the final whistle.

Farce might be unkind with regards to the crowd, but if it hadn't been for the initial best efforts Clermont's faithful to create some noise you'd have thought this supposedly stellar clash was being played in the park.

On this basis neutral venues will have to end, because there were fewer fans here than in some of group stage games. A three-tier stadium with the middle and top areas sparse is hardly befitting of a game this important. The official attendance was 25,942.

It mattered to Saracens and Clermont for different reasons. Les Jaunards somehow lost last year's final to Toulon despite being the better side. For Saracens, a first Heineken Cup final would mark another notch in their quest to become a European juggernaut.

The early exchanges were not friendly. Billy Vunipola chewed up and then spat out Julien Bonnaire with a run to prove that while there may be respect between these two for the moment it was on hold.

It was a record-equalling day for Chris Ashton. He may not be England's choice anymore but the Saracen has scored tries this season for his club, in the process joining in on Sébastien Carrat's record of ten in the competition for Brive in 1996/1997.

Clermont fired back with a penalty from Parra but then threw themselves to the dogs when their scrum-half was caught out with the ball near to his own line.

The French side rallied but passing across their own goal area were charged down by Mako Vunipola. As Marcelo Bosch leapt for the ball as it dropped to earth, Brock James was adjudged to deliberately knock the ball dead and was sent to the bin for his troubles.

The damage was not done, as referee Nigel Owens ran under the sticks to award the Penalty Try. It was a brutally harsh call - how anyone was meant to get to the ball to score in the split second that James knocked it out of play is a mystery - and it left Clermont looking down the barrel trailing 14-3.

Clermont though were blessed with time, even down to 14 men. Jamie Cudmore set the tone with a rambling carry deep into Saracens territory and with points on offer from a penalty they opted for the corner.

It was an early gamble that did not pay off - a crossing penalty ruling out a try for Benson Stanley. Parra did add a second penalty not long after to cut the deficit to eight points.

You just sensed though that it was Saracens day. As Alex Goode released Ashton with a perfectly timed pass, once adjudged as not being forward by the TMO, the winger found Farrell on his inside.

The floated pass bounced forward off his knee before the England fly-half chased up to score. Clermont 21-6 down before the first half had even finished.

A fourth try would have surely killed Clermont off for good, but in another rampaging burst when their big runners - Brits in particular - continued to make ground, Saracens settled for a penalty. It handed them an astonishing lead by the break, 18 points ahead and seemingly destined for Cardiff.

Clermont simply had to score first after the interval but Saracens were sharper - ruthless even, as Farrell's kick pinned Sivivatu into a corner he didn't want to be anywhere near. Clermont's breakdown defence avoided any further damage.

The French giant needed a momentous line break from one of their talented flock, but Billy Vunipola was the only one doing that. The England number eight flew up the middle of the field, only for Neil de Kock to lose the ball forward stretching for a pass.

If Clermont could not panic and find some territory then perhaps they still had a sniff, but the passing within their own 22 suggested otherwise. For every Sivivatu carry there was a double tackle to quell the threat.

The cries of "Bosch, Bosch, Bosch" from the crowd handed Clermont a hint of what was coming next, when after winning a penalty at the scrum the Argentina centre landed a kick from halfway.

The result was sewn up but a fitting footnote was Ashton breaking the European record. After Farrell pickpocketed Sivivatu the winger hacked on and won the race to the ball for his 11th of the season in Europe.

Was it a case of greater desire? Maybe. Saracens' loss to Toulon here this time a year ago was agonising and today they made no mistakes. Their conditioning department also deserve some credit because when the 70-minute mark crept up Saracens were not letting up one bit.

There was time for a sixth and seventh try - Saracens flying up the touchline and making the space down the left for replacement Chris Wyles to go over in the left corner, before Tim Streather then did the same on the opposite side.

Jacques Burger was unsurprisingly Man of the Match - producing a stunning 22 tackles in what was truly by the end a stunning performance from the English side. Clermont will not forget it in a hurry. For Saracens, Toulon or Munster await.

The scorers:

For Saracens:
Tries: Ashton 2, Penalty Try, Farrell, Wyles, Streather
Cons: Goode 5
Pens: Goode, Bosch

For Clermont:
Pens: Parra 2
Yellow Card: James

Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 David Strettle, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Neil de Kock, 8 Billy Vunipola , 7 Jacques Burger, 6 Kelly Brown, 5 Mouritz Botha, 4 Steve Borthwick (c), 3 James Johnston, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Richard Barrington, 18 Matt Stevens, 19 Alistair Hargreaves, 20 Jackson Wray, 21 Richard Wiggleworth, 22 Tim Streather, 23 Chris Wyles

Clermont: 15 Lee Byrne, 14 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 13 Benson Stanley, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Naipolioni Nalaga, 10 Brock James, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Damien Chouly, 6 Julien Bonnaire (c), 5 Nathan Hines, 4 Jamie Cudmore, 3 Davit Zirakashvili, 2 Benjamin Kayser, 1 Thomas Domingo
Replacements: 16 Ti'i Paulo, 17 Vincent Debaty, 18 Clément Ric, 19 Julien Piere, 20 Gerhard Vosloo, 21 Thierry Lacrampe, 22 Mike Delany, 23 Noa Nakaitaci.

Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Alain Rolland (Ireland); Leighton Hodges (Wales)

by Ben Coles

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