Monday 23 October 2017

Saracens will hope winning formula can spark repeat final triumph

Saracens will hope to keep the ball away from old boy David Strettle who now plays for Clermont. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Saracens will hope to keep the ball away from old boy David Strettle who now plays for Clermont. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Jack de Menezes

Winning European Cup finals is hard enough, but successfully defending is the stuff that separates the great from the good. Today, Saracens have their shot at joining the few before them to have won consecutive Champions Cup finals, but a familiar foe stands in their way.

For years now, Clermont Auvergne have been the perennial bridesmaids, coming within inches of winning title after title - 21 times, no less - only to fall at the final hurdle.

Their return to the top of the French game coincided with the emergence of Saracens as a genuine European force at the start of the decade, so this final at Murrayfield feels like the clash we've been waiting for: Europe's two heavyweights in the biggest game of them all.

Saracens head into the clash as the favourites among the bookmakers, the experts and most of the fans. Since their Six Nations clan returned in March, Saracens have played some of the best rugby in their history to dispatch both Glasgow Warriors and Munster in this competition, the latter of which came in a mightily impressive showing at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.

The London outfit also enter the match not just as the champions but as last season's double winner, a feat they hope to achieve again this year by dispatching Clermont before facing Exeter and either Wasps or Leicester in the Premiership final, should they get there.

Interesting But what of Clermont? Their history with Saracens makes interesting reading. The two sides have met seven times in as many years, and it's the Top 14 side who hold the clear advantage having won five matches.

The last time these two sides met, it was Clermont who emerged victorious in the 2014/'15 semi-finals, helping the French team exorcise the demons of the 46-6 mauling the season before. But it is not the victory two years ago that will do the most damage for Clermont, it will be their Saracens insider.

Clermont must have been sick at the sight of David Strettle by the time they signed him from Saracens in 2015. The wing scored four tries in as many matches, and impressed them enough that they signed him ahead of the 2015 World Cup.

Saracens will hope to keep the ball away from Strettle as much as possible, and that may be the overall tactic to keep possession away from the talented Clermont back line. It could see them revert to the style of play that took them to the double last season, but if it proves successful this time around, there will be no one doubting just how great they are. (© Independent News Service)

  • Clermont v Saracens, Live, Sky Sports 3, 5.0

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