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Goode seals Saracens back-to-back European Cups

© AFP / by Julian GUYER | Saracens' centre and captain Brad Barritt kisses the trophy as he celebrates their win on the pitch after the rugby union European Champions Cup Final match against Clermont Auvergne at Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh, Scotland on May 13, 2017

EDINBURGH (AFP) - 

Alex Goode struck the decisive blow as title-holders Saracens retained the European Champions Cup with a 28-17 win over Clermont in a dramatic final at Murrayfield on Saturday.

The London club were just a point in front at 18-17 when the ex-England fullback crossed seven minutes from time following Owen Farrell's delayed pass.

England goalkicker Farrell, who'd been off target with a couple of earlier efforts, then landed the touchline conversion to put Saracens two scores in front at 25-17.

France fly-half Camille Lopez missed a kickable penalty before Farrell's own kick from the tee rounded off the scoring.

Victory left Londoners Saracens, also the reigning English champions, just two matches away from completing the 'double Double' as they became the fourth team to win back-to-back European Cup titles, after Leicester, Leinster and Toulon.

Saracens also set a new record of 18 matches unbeaten in the Champions Cup, beating the mark of 17 they had shared with Ireland's Leinster.

Defeat enhanced Clermont's reputation as rugby's 'nearly' side.

This was their third loss in as many European Cup finals, with Clermont also beaten in 11 of their 12 appearances in France's domestic Top 14 final.

- Ashton record -

Chris Ashton, in his final European appearance with Saracens before joining Clermont's French rivals Toulon, opened the scoring with a record-breaking 37th tournament try.

George Kruis powered over for a converted try before Clermont hit back with one of their own from Remi Lamerat to leave Saracens 12-7 up at half-time.

Clermont closed the gap before Saracens, with man-of-the-match and powerhouse No.8 Billy Vunipola prominent, yet again pulled away in the last 20 minutes.

Clermont had scored more tries -- 16 -- than any other side in the first 40 minutes of matches in this season's tournament, but it was Saracens who came within yards of an opening try in the second minute on a rain-sodden pitch.

Clever interplay between fly-half Farrell and Argentina centre Marcelo Bosch created an opening for Ashton, but he was hauled down in sight of the line by fellow Englishman and opposing wing Nick Abendanon.

However, Ashton was not to be denied and the former England international opened the scoring in the 13th minute, thus breaking the 36-try mark he had shared with former France star Vincent Clerc.

Saracens flanker Michael Rhodes secured line-out ball which found its way to Farrell, looping round.

He released Goode whose grubber kick Scott Spedding allowed Ashton to win the race for the loose ball and dive over in trademark fashion.

Farrell's touchline conversion hit the post, however, and he then fell short with a long-range penalty into the wind.

But Saracens were soon 12-0 up.

Goode found captain Brad Barritt in support and, after he had made ground, lock Kruis -- one six England players in Saracens' starting XV picked for the British and Irish Lions upcoming tour of New Zealand -- came from deep and crashed over in the 21st minute, with Farrell converting.

Clermont desperately needed to score next and did just that as Saracens conceded their first try in the opening half of a Champions Cup match this season.

Following a close-range scrum, Aurelien Rougerie took the ball up and after he was denied, fellow centre Lamerat went low to score, with Morgan Parra converting.

Early in the second half, a kick out on the full gave Saracens a line-out on the edge of Clermont's 22, the French side subsequently conceding a penalty in front of their posts, which Farrell knocked over for a 15-7 lead.

But Clermont came storming back as Spedding started a fine handling move with a swerving run before Peceli Yato fended off Farrell and found Abendanon to complete a 70-metre try in the corner.

Parra converted and Clermont were just a point down at 14-15.

Farrell and Parra then exchanged penalties to leave Saracens 18-17 ahead before the champions pulled clear late on.

by Julian GUYER

© 2017 AFP