Saracens flatter only to deceive
CLERMONT AUVERGNE 25
There is no tougher place to win at in France than Stade Marcel Michelin, Clermont's bear-pit of a stadium, but Saracens came closer than anyone had managed since Biarritz burgled a three-point victory a year ago. The scoreline does not suggest how tight it was but the eight-man escort off the field given to the referee, Peter Allan, at the end showed how agitated the home supporters had become. Clermont were at times hanging on, twice reduced to 14 men in the opening half as they resorted to any means to keep their line intact.
Despite their dominance, Sarries trailed 12-3 at the break. Clermont had won their previous 14 matches at home, most by a wide margin, but they were surprised when, from the opening minute, the normally conservative Derick Hougaard launched an attack from his own '22'. The out-half's kicking suffered and he missed three penalties, but for all the intent shown by the visitors, they lacked the wit to break down an obdurate defence and their one try came when Clermont were down to 14 men.
That was three minutes into the second half that brought Sarries back to 12-10, David Strettle taking a return pass from Chris Wyles out wide after a scrum. The prop Davit Zirakashvili was in the sin-bin then after scragging Richard Wigglesworth from a blatantly offside position and the second-row Jamie Cudmore had spent 10 minutes cooling off at the start of the second quarter after punching Deon Carstens.
Cudmore was off the field when Julien Malzieu scored Clermont's second try, from a scrum. When they were restored to 15, they took control of the game through two Morgan Parra penalties. Sarries still tried to move the ball but Strettle was caught by Napolioni Nalaga when the line beckoned and Schalk Brits gave away four penalties for holding on. Nalaga fed off a mistake to score his side's final try at the death.
Scorers -- Clermont Auvergne: Cudmore, Malzieu, Nalaga try, Parra 2 cons, 2 pens Saracens: Strettle try, Hougaard 1 con, 1 pen.
Clermont Auvergne: A Floch, N Nalaga, A Rougerie, M Joubert (G Williams 66), J Malzieu, B James, M Parra, T Domingo, T Paulo (M Ledesma 51), D Zirakashvili (M Scelzo 73), J Cudmore (yc 20-30), T Privat (J White 58), J Bonnaire, A Lapandry, S Lauaki (E Vermeulen 63).
Saracens: A Goode, D Strettle, A Powell (K Ratuvou 61), B Barritt, C Wyles, D Hougaard, R Wigglesworth (N de Kock 50), D Carstens, S Brits, C Nieto, S Borthwick, H Vyvyan (M Botha 51), J Burger, A Saull (E Joubert 51), K Brown.
Referee: P Allan (Sco) .