Friday 23 February 2018

Saracens send out ominous warning in Clermont rout

Saracens 46 Clermont 6

Saracens Chris Ashton goes over to score their first try
Saracens Chris Ashton goes over to score their first try
Clermont's Sitiveni Sivivatu is tackled by Saracens Jacques Burger
Saracens Schalk Brits is tackled by Clermont's Mike Delany
Saracens David Strettle is tackled by Clermont's Sitiveni Sivivatu
Saracens Schalk Brits is tackled by Clermont's Mike Delany and Benson Stanley during the Heineken Cup Semi Final match at Twickenham

Paul Rees

Never mind the acres of empty seating, Saracens turned up. What was expected to be a close contest turned into the Heineken Cup's biggest semi-final blowout in its 19th and final year: no team had reached the 40-point mark at this stage before and – if two early refereeing decisions helped the Premiership leaders gain momentum – they were immeasurably superior to a Clermont team that is as passive on the road as it is supreme at home.

Most teams who have been successful in Europe have been so after years of pain, but the pace of Sarries' evolution this year has been such that it will take something to deny them a league and cup double.

They have relied in years past on Owen Farrell, and his right boot in particular. The outhalf played, but was unable to take kicks at goal because of a foot injury. He was limping after just five minutes as a consequence of a long raking kick and, from then on, Alex Goode was used to hoof the ball out of hand as well as off the tee.

Farrell still played an integral part in a remarkable opening half that shattered the stereotype of semi-finals being tense encounters. Saracens scored their first try after eight minutes when Chris Ashton received an inside pass, having roamed from his opposite wing, to have a clear run to the line.

Clermont were unhappy with two refereeing decisions that tilted the match towards Saracens. The first, after Morgan Parra had replied to Ashton's first try with a 45-metre penalty, came after 13 minutes, when last year's beaten finalists won a ruck near their own line. The attempted clearance of Lee Byrne was charged down by Mako Vunipola and, as it started its descent deep behind the French club's goalline, Brock James and Marcelo Bosch tried to catch the ball.

They got in each other's way and James then flicked it dead with his left hand. Referee Nigel Owens referred the incident to the TV match official, and watched replays on the big screen.

Owens decided that the act was not only worth a yellow card, but merited a penalty try because Saracens would probably have scored had the ball been allowed to bounce. The first decision had the spirit of the law on its side, but the second required a few leaps of faith.

Sarries were 14-3 ahead, but Clermont, a man down, enjoyed their best period of the match. Parra kicked his second penalty after Jacques Burger infringed at a ruck and then came a second contentious decision.

Benson Stanley, who was otherwise a poor replacement for the injured Aurelien Rougerie, crossed the line after a period of pressure, but Owens referred the score upstairs because he suspected Farrell had been blocked off the ball by Damien Chouly. The try was ruled out.

The second blow left Clermont bereft of stuffing. Their only joy had been up front, but they kept losing the ball in contact and, after Schalk Brits forced a turnover, Farrell scored another try that was referred upstairs and Goode added a penalty to make the interval score 24-6.

There was to be no comeback by Clermont, who conceded three more tries after the break after a long-range Bosch penalty.

Ashton got the first, setting a new tournament record of 11 in a season, created the next for Chris Wyles, after yet another turnover, and was used as a decoy by Tim Streather in the final minute to leave Clermont down and routed.

Scorers – Saracens: C Ashton 2 tries, O Farrell, C Wyles, T Streather try each, Penalty try, A Goode 5 cons, pen, M Bosch pen. Clermont: M Parra 2 pens.

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).

Referee: N Owens (WRU)

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