Saracens delivered another superb display of rugby skill and mental resilience to eventually overcome the challenge of Clermont Auvergne 28-17 and retain the European Champions Cup after a gripping final at Murrayfield on Saturday.
The London club started strongly with two tries in the first 22 minutes and looked as they were going to cruise to victory but Clermont fought back to ensure there was only a point in it going into the last 10 minutes.
Saracens, however, as they have so many times before, held their nerve under pressure in a superb atmosphere as Alex Goode broke through for the killer third try in the 73rd minute which Owen Farrell converted from the touchline.
The victory made Saracens the fourth team to retain Europe’s premier club title after Leicester, Leinster and Toulon while perennial bridesmaids Clermont, who have lost 11 of their 12 French championship finals, became the first to play in three finals and lose them all.
"The win felt different to last year, it's a relief. There was a lot of satisfaction from this," said Saracens scrumhalf Richard Wigglesworth.
"We could easily have lost our heads being so dominant and not scoring but we didn't. We want to keep building but we've put down a marker now."
Against a terrific backdrop of noise and colour, Saracens roared out of the blocks and only a desperate tackle by Nick Abendanon prevented Chris Ashton scoring after 90 seconds.
But the former England winger was not denied for long as 11 minutes later he ran onto a chipped kick by Goode which bounced perfectly to enable him to gather and dive over.
Ashton, who is joining French club Toulon next season, is now the tournament’s all-time leading scorer with 37 tries.
The holders looked in total command and stretched the lead to 12-0 when lock George Kruis charged over following more good work by Goode and captain Brad Barritt.
Clermont, however, gathered themselves and, working tirelessly through their forwards, sent Remi Lamerat over for what was the first first-half try Saracens had conceded in the competition all season.
Morgan Parra converted and it stayed 12-7 at the break.
Farrell extended it with a penalty but Clermont, with a succession of breakdown turnovers, got back to within a point when Abendanon scored after a great break and offload by Peceli Yato. A penalty apiece for Farrell and Parra meant it was 18-17 heading in to the last 15 minutes with the tension palpable.
Saracens gradually tightened the noose though and their relentless pressure eventually opened the way for Goode to score their third try seven minutes from time. The ice-veined Farrell made it a vital eight-point lead, which looked decisive and became so a minute later when Camille Lopez missed an easy penalty at the other end.
Saracens, now unbeaten in two full seasons in the competition, will now turn their attention to the double - they face Exeter away in the Premiership semi-finals next week.
Clermont, beaten by Toulon in the 2013 and 2015 finals, will have to regather for another assault on the French championship, where they currently lie second.
"We gave it our all out there - we might have left it a bit late in the first half to start playing but we had a good fightback in the second half and we're proud of that effort," said Clermont fullback Scott Spedding. "We are absolutely gutted. We don't know what we're missing but hopefully one day it turns our way."
Date created : 2017-05-13