Wednesday 17 January 2018

Splashing cash not answer to cutting edge problem, insist Sarries

Clermont 13-9 Saracens

Wesley Fofana celebrates his try
Wesley Fofana celebrates his try

Mick Cleary

Saracens, beaten but not bowed, will not reach for the chequebook to soothe their heartache and ensure that these narrow-margin games go their way in their future. Instead, they will stand firm and stand together.

Gritty, defiant, cussed: Saracens were all of these, but ultimately they were not winners. They need more attacking potency, a more powerful and creative edge, a sprinkling of gold dust, but Mark McCall, their director of rugby, said the supposed big spenders of English rugby - and that is more myth than reality - would keep their purse strings tied. "No, we will not be signing a marquee player for next season," he said.

"We know where we think we can improve our side but we are prepared to wait for the right person to make that happen. You have got to be very careful who you spend that kind of money on. You have to be sure that the person has the right ambition and hunger to come to this club.

"Of course you are always looking to add something. We have got to keep an eye on the back line but our (young) pack is developing so that it will be a force for years to come. We like to think we have shown that you can develop your own."

Five of Saturday's forwards - Mako and Billy Vunipola, Jamie George, George Kruis and Maro Itoje - are 24 or under. There is little need of mass reinforcement up front. Itoje, captain of England's World Cup-winning U-20 side last year, is a prodigious talent and lacked nothing against seasoned internationals.

But Saracens did not have enough: not quite enough meaty force, not quite enough guile or devil behind, just not quite enough in each and every department. They were mighty contributors to a splendid occasion but sympathy for noble feats cuts little mustard at elite level.

The conundrum is not easily solved. Saracens were close, so close, and will rue the occasional lapse in execution, notably midway through the second-half when a booming follow-up tackle by Richard Wigglesworth on powerhouse wing Napolioni Nalaga dislodged the ball near the Clermont line, only for Saracens flanker Jacques Burger to flunk the gather. It was a tricky, split-second opportunity but those are the margins at this level.

Clermont created their own moment of magic and had the vision as well as the skill of Brock James and Wesley Fofana to seal the deal, the fly-half deftly chipping and the centre adroitly catching to score the only try of the day.

It that return on the ledger appears meagre, then the match itself gave us plenty. The game was in total harmony with its backdrop, full of sound and fury, a heavy-metal sonata, replete with big rhythms. Saracens had to contend with so much. You could sense the upsurge the moment the second half started and Chris Ashton was swamped. From then on, Saracens, who had led at the interval, were under the cosh, and Fofana scored his try three minutes later.

Owen Farrell got his team back to within a point, his first kick in anger in 10 weeks because of injury, but there was too much power for Clermont and their remarkable fans to be denied. It was as if Saracens were playing an entire city rather than 15 men in yellow and blue.

Two defeats in two finals in the space of seven days hit Sarries hard last season, but Farrell does not believe there will be any moping or self-pitying this time around.

They cannot afford for there to be; they play Premiership champions Northampton at Milton Keynes on Saturday.

"We're OK in that regard (of bouncing back)," said Farrell, who reported no ill effects from his 20-minute cameo. "We're excited for what we we've got coming up."

Clermont, who thumped Northampton in the quarter-final, believe that Saracens have got what it takes.

"Saracens have the ability to win the Premiership this year, no doubt," said Clermont forwards coach Jono Gibbes. "It is definitely more stressful playing Saracens." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Clermont: Abendanon; Nakaitaci, Davies, Fofana, Nalaga (Rougerie 74); James, Radosavljevic (Parra 54); Debaty, Kayser (Ulugia 66), Zirakashvili, Cudmore, Vaha'amahina, Bonnaire, Bardy (Lapandry 55), Chouly (capt).

Saracens: Goode; Ashton, Bosch, Barritt (capt), Wyles; Hodgson (Farrell 57), Wigglesworth (De Kock 69); M Vunipola (Gill 73), George (Brits 51), Du Plessis, Kruis, Hamilton (Wray 55), Itoje, Burger (Brown 74), B Vunipola.

Ref: G Clancy (Ire)

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