Saturday 18 November 2017

Clermont suffer Burger bite as 'sensational' Ashton runs riot

Saracens 46 Clermont 6

Alex Goode of Saracens kicks a conversion during the Heineken Cup semi final match between Saracens and Clermont Auvergne at Twickenham Stadium on April 26, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
Alex Goode of Saracens kicks a conversion during the Heineken Cup semi final match between Saracens and Clermont Auvergne at Twickenham Stadium on April 26, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
Schalk Brits of Saracens passes the ball under pressure from Wesley Fofana of Clermont during the Heineken Cup Semi-Final match between Saracens and ASM Clermont Auvergne at Twickenham Stadium on April 26, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Harry Engels/Getty Images)
Chris Ashton (L) of Saracens celebrates with team mate Brad Barritt after he scores his second try during the Heineken Cup semi final match between Saracens and Clermont Auvergne at Twickenham Stadium on April 26, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
Sitiveni Sivivatu of Clermont is tackled by Jacques Burger (L) and Kelly Brown during the Heineken Cup semi final match between Saracens and Clermont Auvergne at Twickenham Stadium on April 26, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Chris Hewett

If a club as rich, resourceful and ruthless as Clermont Auvergne can lose a Heineken Cup semi-final by a record margin, it is tempting to think that most things are possible in professional rugby.

Even if it does not transpire that the astonishing Jacques Burger was born in Wapping rather than Windhoek and is therefore available to play for England in next year's World Cup, it is entirely feasible on this evidence that Chris Ashton will return to Red Rose duty in good time for the global shindig in a little over 500 days' time.

Burger, as Namibian as they come, was the talk of Twickenham at the weekend, and justifiably so: he went after each and every Clermont ball-carrier, from Sitiveni Sivivatu out wide to Fritz Lee in the back-row, and set about them with a relish, if you'll pardon the cheap pun on the name.

He made the best part of 30 tackles, most of them blood-curdlingly ferocious, and treated every 20-80 ball as an even-money shot. By the time he had stopped flattening opponents of all shapes and sizes, Saracens were over the hills and far away.

As Clermont were counting their bruises, Burger was counting his blessings. "Unreal, eh?" he said after receiving the man-of-the-match award. "I was gone for two years with my knee problems, so it's incredibly rewarding to be back doing what I love. I hope when people watch they see someone who's having fun."

It would be stretching a point to suggest that Clermont were entertained by the sight of Burger enjoying himself.

Whatever is left of his right knee is no longer in a place where knees are usually found, such was the extent of the surgical intervention, and he spends most of his free time connected to an ice machine which is handily situated next to his sofa.

He does not know what it is to play without discomfort and his pain threshold is clearly off the scale – "maybe I'm borderline stupid; maybe I'm just too dumb to feel it."

There were any number of fine Saracens performances, from Mako Vunipola's close-quarter potency at loosehead prop to Alex Goode's supremely intelligent contribution at full-back – a showing enriched by his goal-kicking prowess following the decision to relieve the recently injured Owen Farrell of the duties.

Saracens coach Mark McCall described Ashton's display as "sensational": not a word frequently used in this context over recent months, but an understandable choice given the quality of the two tries that took him to 11 for the campaign – a record at Heineken Cup level. (© Independent News Service)

Saracens – A Goode; C Ashton, M Bosch (T Streather 72), B Barritt, D Strettle (C Wyles 69); O Farrell, N de Kock (R Wigglesworth 50); M Vunipola (R Barrington 70), S Brits (J George 70), J Johnston (M Stevens 45); S Borthwick, M Botha (A Hargreaves 66); K Brown, J Burger (J Wray 69), B Vunipola.

Clermont – L Byrne; S Sivivatu, B Stanley (S Nakaitaci 66), W Fofana, N Nalaga; B James (M Delany 57), M Parra (T Lacrampe 61); T Domingo (V Debaty 50), B Kayser (T Paulo 57), D Zirakashvili (C Ric 67); J Cudmore (J Pierre 69), N Hines; J Bonnaire, D Chouly, F Lee (G Vosloo 32).

Ref – N Owens (WRU)

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