SARACENS HAVE REACHED their first ever Heineken Cup final after pummelling Clermont Auvergne by 40 points at Twickenham.
Sarries were within sight of their first ever Heineken Cup final as they led Vern Cotter’s side by 18 points at half-time. Welsh referee Nigel Owens played a crucial part in the opening 40 minutes as he awarded Sarries a penalty try, denied the French side a score and indulged in breakdown encroachment from both sides.
If there were first-half quibbles, Mark McCall’s men swatted them aside after the break as Sarries cut loose and Chris Ashton made hay on the right wing. The England international scored two tries to break a 17-year record for five-pointers in a Heineken Cup season.
The French side — finalists last year — got off to a shocking start as Saracens winger Chris Ashton dived over in the corner for an early try. The score was Ashton’s 10th of the tournament this season and equalled the 17-year record of Brive’s Sebastien Carat. Alex Goode added the extras.
Clermont got on the scoreboard on 11 minutes as Morgan Parra knocked over a penalty but disaster was soon to follow. Faced with a ruck 5m from their own line, Clermont attempted to clear their lines, behind their line, but Parra’s kick was partially blocked. The ball spiralled in the air and, with Marcelo Bosch lurking, Brock James knocked the it dead. Owens consulted television replays before, quite harshly, sin-binning James and giving Sarries a penalty try.
The next 10 minutes of the game were crucial but the Premiership side could not make it count. Instead, it was Clermont that pressed and camped in the Saracens’ half. The Top 14 side celebrated what they believed was a clear Benson Stanley try, on 24 minutes, but Damien Chouly was penalised for crossing [and taking out Owen Farrell] in the build-up.
Parra added a 28th minute penalty but another break up Ashton’s wing exposed a full-strength Clermont. Schalk Brits effected a turnover, the English side piled up the left and Ashton offloading for Farrell in support. The out-half could not gather the pass but kneed it forward. With the French defence stepping off the gas — waiting for Owens to call a knock-on — Farrell ran on, gathered possession and dived over.
Goode, showing no ill effects of his crash-landing from Jared Payne’s challenge in the semi-final win over Ulster, tagged on another three points just before Owens whistled for half-time.
Bosch added a penalty on 54 minutes before Ashton completely knocked the win out of Clermont. 65 minutes ha passed when Sarries’ forwards won another turnover, Ashton hacked on twice before grounding the ball for his record-breaking, 11th try. Further, converted scores were added by Chris Wyles and Tim Streather as Clermont staggered, punch-drunk about the Twickenham pitch.
Saracens: Alex Goode; Chris Ashton, Marcelo Bosch, Brad Barritt, David Strettle; Owen Farrell, Neil de Kock; Mako Vunipola, Schalk Brits, James Johnston, Steve Borthwick (c), Mouritz Botha, Kelly Brown, Jacques Burger, Billy Vunipola.Replacements: Jamie George, Richard Barrington, Matt Stevens, Alistair Hargreaves, Jackson Wray, Richard Wigglesworth, Tim Streather, Chris Wyles.
Clermont Auvergne: Lee Byrne; Sitiveni Sivivatu, Benson Stanley, Wesley Fofana, Naipolioni Nalaga; Brock James, Morgan Parra; Thomas Domingo, Benjamin Kayser, Davit Zirakashvili, Jamie Cudmore, Nathan Hines, Julien Bonnaire (c), Damien Chouly, Fritz Lee.Replacements: Ti’i Paulo, Vincent Debaty, Clément Ric, Julien Pierre, Gerhard Vosloo, Thierry Lacrampe, Mike Delany, Noa Nakaitaci.