Saracens target a second double by defeating Clermont in Champions Cup final

Saracens are Europe’s rugby powerhouse and can confirm this status by retaining the European Champions Cup at Murrayfield tomorrow against a Clermont Auvergne team that consistently fails to win the big finals.
Like Clermont, Sarries know all about the pain of falling at the final hurdle, but while the French Top14 outfit continue to be labelled the “nearly men” of European rugby, the English champions have become ruthless in the ability to collect trophies. In 2014 Sarries lost the Champions Cup final to Toulon and then the Premiership final in extra time to Northampton a week later and used the pain of those body blows to become a more ruthless team.
They won the Premiership title in 2015 and then added the Champions Cup to another league triumph last season. Now, they are on course to repeat that incredible double again this season while Clermont carry the ignominy of losing 11 of their 12 Top 14 finals, along with failure to beat Toulon in the 2013 and 2015 Champion Cup finals.
Patently, when tomorrow’s eagerly awaited clash enters the final quarter, one team will be able to call upon positive experiences while French minds will inevitably be clouded by so many negative memories.
Mark McCall, the Sarries director of rugby, said: “Since the Cup semi-final loss to Clermont in 2015 we haven’t lost a play-off game, that’s nine in nine in two competitions. That’s a record we should be really proud of.”
With Clermont’s record of failing in big finals does McCall believe this will be a factor at Murrayfield? ““That only might become an issue towards the end, but all season Clermont have been superb in starting games incredibly well.”
While Sarries have the mental edge heading into their third final and will create a new record of 18 successive Cup match victories if they lift the trophy, McCall is acutely aware that Clermont are a much better team than the Racing 92 side they overcame in last season’s final.
Former Sarries wing Dave Strettle remains a real threat along with French full back Scott Spedding and Clermont have continued to score tries despite losing the mercurial Wesley Fofana and powerful wing Noa Nakaitaci to season ending injuries.
Up front they have a beast of a pack that will attempt to pressure Sarries at the scrum and mess up the most consistent line out in European rugby. Bringing order to the chaos that Clermont will try to create is paramount for the reigning champions who are taking positives from the injury problems that removed Maro Itoje, George Kruis and Billy and Mako Vunipola from the team during the season.
Normally, those key forwards will have put in far more hours on the pitch and in training at the climax of the season, but all four are fresh and peaking at the right time before heading off to New Zealand with the British and Irish Lions. Billy Vunipola has taken his ball carrying game to a new level this season although his desire to bring more “edge” to his play has seen him screaming in the faces of opponents and told to calm down by referees.
Vunipola has been chastised by his aunties in Australia who send regular email comments to both brothers with the most recent telling the No8 to be more humble and to stop losing self-control. Billy insists he has taken the criticism on board and is ready to channel his inner rage into knocking over opponents, starting with the huge Clermont pack that features 6ft 8ins Sebastien Vahaamahina who had made an amazing 90 tackles during the competition – more than any other player.
Inevitably the battle for superiority up front will lead to penalties being awarded by Nigel Owens and the boot of Owen Farrell remains the most potent points scoring weapon in World rugby. The England outside half is the player Clermont fear most and they will attempt to shut him down at every opportunity. However, Farrell is up for the fight having learnt to control his temper and he now exudes the confidence of a player at the very top of his game.
Sarries are the favourites thanks to their stronger winning mentality and the boot of Farrell and that will be enough to nullify the power game Clermont will bring to the final.
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