Ashton ‘sad’ to say goodbye to European champions Saracens
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Winger makes history with 37th try in elite competition
Toulon-bound Chris Ashton confessed he felt a tinge of sadness despite helping Saracens lift the European Champions Cup for the second year in a row.
The former England wing will call time on his five-year stint with the Londoners this summer and make the move to France.
But he ensured he will depart with yet another winners’ medal after putting his side ahead at Murrayfield as Sarries overcame Clermont Auvergne 28-17.
His touchdown was his 37th Champions Cup score and set a new record try tally for Europe’s premier club competition.
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But while the final celebrations sparked wild celebrations among his team-mates, the 30-year-old was left in a reflective mood.
“I’m going to miss it,” said Ashton, who could yet sign off with a third straight Aviva Premiership title if his side overcome Exeter in next weekend’s semi-final.
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“I’ve had five amazing years here. Some of it on my part has been life-changing. I’ve had unbelievable highs and definitely some lows along there.
“The support I’ve had from the players and the coaching staff has been phenomenal, so it will be a sad day when I do leave.
“It was nice to do something on a high today. Obviously we still have next week but I will celebrate tonight with the lads and enjoy it.
“However, lives change and opportunities arise and, yeah, I think it’s my time to move on.
“I won’t lie, I’m pretty happy about the record. But I think a lot of it isn’t down to me as an individual, it’s down to the group I’ve been playing with the last five years. I’ve relied on them.
“It’s nice for my name to be up there but a lot of the credit belongs to this club.”
The final was billed as the classic match-up of the immovable object that is Sarries against Clermont’s unstoppable forces.
Yet for much of the first half the Top 14 giants were left creaking as Mark McCall’s side popped the ball about with effortless, flawless ease.
They were rewarded with scores from Ashton and George Kruis but eventually Clermont caught their breath, hitting back through Remi Lamerat before half-time.
And it appeared for a spell that Saracens’ relentless drive for glory was about to come to a shuddering halt when their opponents drew themselves within a point after a sensational length-of-the-field run by Peceli Yato set up Nick Abendanon to score.
But the English champions clung on to the continental title they lifted for the first time last year when Alex Goode dived over in the corner seven minutes from time.
McCall said: “It is great to win back-to-back (finals) but the manner in which we did it was the hugely encouraging thing.
“It felt we were dominant for long periods - with a strong scrum and line-out we dominated territory and attacked very well - but we were never away on the scoreboard.
“It was one of those games where they scored their 100-metre try, a great try, but our reaction was outstanding. We really attacked the game for the last 20 minutes, kicked behind them and put them under pressure, and I think we got what we deserved at the end.
“The pleasing thing was it felt and looked like we improved from last year. We showed a lot of great qualities, all parts of our game were strong and if we’re hungry enough there’s no reason why we can’t get better.”
Defeat was another bitter pill for Clermont who are now the first side to lose three European Cup finals, a miserable record surpassed by their record in Top 14 deciders where they have lost 11 out of 12.
Their head coach Franck Azema said: “We’re disappointed of course. We lost to a much better team.
“We didn’t give up, we didn’t break, but Saracens were favourites and it showed. We weren’t able to reverse the pressure.”
“Of course we believed we could win after our second try but they put us under pressure all the time.”