Rugby: Strettle warning for Saracens
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David Strettle has warned European champions Saracens that they hold no surprises for Clermont-Auvergne in their weekend repeat of the 2017 final.
Saracens beat Clermont 28-17 at Murrayfield in May to be crowned kings of Europe for the second successive season.
Seven months on and the pair meet again at Saracens’ Allianz Park on Sunday, the first of back-to-back games which will almost certainly determine who qualifies for the knockout stages from Pool 2.
“Both sides are sat at the top of the table and we know how important away points and away wins are,” said Strettle, Clermont’s 14-times capped England winger.
“It’s a massive game for Saracens playing at home because they don’t want to lose that advantage, and it’s a huge game for us because we want to take the advantage away from them.
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“Having played against Sarries in the final, the boys respect how good a team they are. But it won’t be a case of the guys not knowing what’s coming.
“It’s going to be international-level intensity and when you look at the two teams we can match their calibre of player.”
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Strettle’s former club Saracens – who are one point better off than Clermont after the opening two rounds of European fixtures – are currently third in the Aviva Premiership after three straight defeats.
But the form of the French champions has been even more patchy with Clermont down in ninth place in France’s Top 14.
“When you carry the tag champions of France teams want to beat you that little bit more,” said Strettle, now in his third season at Clermont after leaving Saracens in 2015.
“I think the emotion of teams coming up against the champions has caught a few of the boys out.
“But there have been times in games when we’ve taken our foot off the gas and let teams back in.
“We’ve possibly not respected the opposition as much as we should, it hasn’t been anyone else’s fault than ours.”
Maro Itoje has joined Billy Vunipola on the Saracens’ injury list, with the England lock suffering a broken jaw which makes him a doubt for the start of England’s Six Nations title defence in February.
Clermont, meanwhile, have France star Wesley Fofana back in contention after the centre spent nine months out with a ruptured Achilles tendon.
Fofana’s return has come at the right time for a club who have never won European rugby’s biggest prize but have reached three of the last five finals.
“When you get a player of his quality back in the team it gives all the boys a boost,” added Strettle.
“You just have to walk around the club and see the different player awards he has won on the walls and you see what a good a player he has been here.
“He has got the X-factor to change a game and he’s been that player at Clermont over the last five or six years.”