Comment: Saracens destined for more European Champions Cup glory against Clermont Auvergne next month
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Sarries will bid for back-to-back European titles in May after beating Munster in semi-finals
Saracens will face Clermont Auvergne in this season’s European Champions Cup final in Edinburgh next month — the very same side who inflicted Sarries’ last defeat in Europe.
The Hendon-based club were edged 13-9 in the 2015 semi-final, but it was that loss that allowed them to build the success they have done so brilliantly thus far.
That culminated in a powerful second-half display against Munster in Dublin last Saturday. Arguably the two best sides in Europe this term, the English champions came out on top with a 26-10 victory despite defending for large periods in the first half.
The Premiership side will go into the final as firm favourites following an incredible two-year unbeaten run in Europe as they seek to become only the fourth side to retain the Champions Cup crown. Only Leicester Tigers, Leinster and Toulon have won back-to-back titles in the continental competition.
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Indeed, Clermont will be out for revenge, having missed out on European glory twice in the last four years, coming off second best to fellow Top 14 side Toulon on both occasions.
Saracens’ togetherness and team unity will be put to the test at Murrayfield, as Clermont bid to win their maiden Champions Cup title. But the north-Londoners’ form against French opposition could be a deciding factor — having won their last seven games against the French, including twice against Toulon this season.
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Top 14 sides are renowned for their strong, physical packs, so the route one tactic is one that Sarries know how to handle effectively,
But Saracens and Clermont are much stronger sides. Both teams are still in the hunt for double-winning seasons with the two currently sitting third in their respective domestic competitions.
In the semi-final, it was the impressive work of Camille Lopez that stole the show for Clermont against Leinster, but in Owen Farrell, the Frenchman will have perhaps the best fly-half in Europe to contend with.
For Saracens, though, former clubman and in-form David Strettle has proved a big hit with the Clermont faithful in the two years he has been with the club. His awareness of the try-line and attacking capabilities could prove a handful for Sarries’ uncompromising defence.
Indeed, Strettle has touched down 13 times in all competitions this season and, along with fellow England international Nick Abendanon and Noa Nakaitaci, can pose a real threat in attack.
Even with the reliable long-range kicking from French fullback Scott Spedding, Clermont can score points from anywhere in the opposition half.
If Saracens’ pack were put to the sword against Munster, it’ll be even more so with Clermont. But as Leinster found on occasion on Sunday in Lyon, the French side’s forwards tire quickly, opening gaps in the midfield. Sarries no.10 Farrell will undoubtedly look to exploit it with their powerful ball carriers to gain the upper hand in attack.
Saracens are a team that know how to assert their own control — their second-half performance in Dublin epitomised that, but a stronger opening period could create too many problems for Clermont.
Sarries are yet to concede a first-half try in the competition this season, so continuing that run in the final, along with their show of strength in the proceeding second half this season, should seal the tie.
With the way in which Saracens have gone about their business in Europe this season, it’s difficult to Clermont stopping them in their tracks.
The reigning champions look even more determined to win than when they lifted the cup in 2016. Their European journey continues to impress and their trip to Edinburgh should result in the club’s first silverware of the season.
• Saracens star and England international Sarah McKenna will be in Regents Park on May 5 to help launch this summer’s Warrior Camps.
The camps are designed to introduce women to the basics of rugby in what is a landmark year for the sport with the Women’s World Cup taking place in Ireland this August.
From May 12-21, 100 Warrior Camps will take place across England to encourage more women and girls to take up contact rugby in clubs across the country.