Bordeaux-Begles v Saracens: Five takeaways from the Champions Cup clash as France’s backline stars light up the last-16

Colin Newboult
Damian Penaud in action for Bordeaux-Begles in 2024.

Damian Penaud in action for Bordeaux-Begles in 2024.

Following a 45-12 victory for Bordeaux-Begles over Saracens at the Stade Chaban-Delmas on Saturday, here’s our five takeaways from the Champions Cup clash.

Top line

Bordeaux-Begles produced a magnificent display, repeating their victory from earlier in the season to once again dominate Saracens. On that occasion, they scored 55 points and they reached a century by adding another 45 in this Champions Cup round-of-16 encounter.

They only led 10-0 at the break via Mateo Garcia’s try and Maxime Lucu’s penalty, but the pressure had been unrelenting and the dam eventually broke in the second period. Sarries, who had been resilient in the first half, duly folded as Garcia, Nicolas Depoortere and Louis Bielle-Biarrey all scored braces to complete a comfortable win.

It was a display full of power, pace and skill from the hosts to reach the quarter-finals and, on this evidence, they will no doubt be a threat for the title. Bordeaux next face Harlequins and you rather fear for Saracens’ fellow Englishmen in the last-eight contest.

Bordeaux power overwhelms Sarries

The three-time champions once had the biggest pack around but it is fair to say that Saracens are not the team they once were. They were completely and utterly bullied by a brilliant Bordeaux outfit, who destroyed them in pretty much every facet.

Ben Tameifuna was outstanding in the loose, shrugging off would-be tacklers with ease, while Tevita Tatafu and Pete Samu also won the gain line battle. Samu, alongside Maxime Lamothe, was also influential at the breakdown as they made it incredibly difficult for the visitors at the contact area.

That physicality was also displayed behind the scrum with Yoram Moefana, Damian Penaud and Depoortere all enjoying their time against the Sarries defence. Thanks to that size throughout the team, the Englishmen were completely overwhelmed.

Saracens did well to stay in the game in the first half but that sheer physicality played a key role in the eventual blowout. Mark McCall’s men could not stem the tide and, in the end, the hosts ran in the tries their performance deserved.

Saracens dumped out of Champions Cup by rampant Bordeaux-Begles in era-ending defeat

Owen Farrell a bigger miss than Matthieu Jalibert

Let’s be honest, it wouldn’t have made a difference to the end result. Any team that gets pumped like that physically is going to lose, but Farrell’s availability would have at least given them more of a presence.

They missed his decision-making skills, leadership and ability to get his side in the right areas. Alex Goode really struggled in the face of the Bordeaux wall and any decent positions were usually wasted by errors after one or two phases. That exacerbated their problems and meant Sarries could not get out of their own half for any significant length of time.

As for Jalibert, he is a wonderful talent, who plays much looser and takes on more running responsibility himself given his athletic threat. Although Garcia isn’t of the same quality, his ability to act more as a facilitator benefited the hosts. It allowed their dangerous backs to get into the game and dominate the 80 minutes.

Those Bordeaux outside backs

Speaking of those backs, Penaud, Moefana, Depoortere, Bielle-Biarrey and Romain Buros were something to behold. That first quartet were all named in the France squad for the recent Six Nations and, in time, could well make up the 11-14 positions for Les Bleus.

While there is not a natural playmaker there – the centre partnership is more about power and pace – they all have tremendous skill sets which means that the ball rarely dies with them in contact. Some of the touches on the gain line were magnificent, their lines of running were excellent and, as a result, completely put the Saracens defence on the back foot.

End of an era and start of a new one

One thing to remember about those backs is that Penaud is the oldest player there at 27. Buros is 26 while the others are under 24, with Depoortere and Bielle-Biarrey barely out of their nappies at 21 and 20 respectively.

When you add 25-year-old Jalibert to that mix, it is a backline which could play together for the next few years. They appear to be building something special and, even if they aren’t quite good enough to win the title this season, expect them to be challenging in 2024/25.

Of course, they have to qualify through the immensely competitive Top 14, but they are currently in the top six of that competition and on this form will strike fear into their domestic opponents.

In contrast, this is the end of an era for Saracens, who will see a number of loyal servants leave – players who were vital in their three Champions Cup wins. Farrell is obviously the most high profile departure, but the Vunipola brothers, Billy and Mako, will also head for pastures new.

They will have an overhaul in the summer as they seek to once again become a force in Europe because, at the moment, they are nowhere near.

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