Saracens 3 Clermont Auvergne 22: Les Miserables! Sarries exit kills English Euro dream
20:16 GMT, 8 April 2012
The systematic dismantling of the English challenge in Europe was rounded off in emphatic fashion at Vicarage Road as the Aviva Premiership champions were dispatched from the Heineken Cup in an exhibition of French power.
Saracens came into this quarter-final full of intent, determined to show that they can become a fixture among the continent’s elite. But they were out-muscled by a Clermont side who earned a semi-final date with holders Leinster in Bordeaux later this month.
Although Mark McCall’s team attacked with fierce defiance late on, they could not breach the visitors’ defence. Clermont had taken control through a try from Wales full back Lee /04/08/article-0-12848A31000005DC-404_468x313.jpg” width=”468″ height=”313″ alt=”Score: Lee /04/08/article-2126920-1284962E000005DC-394_468x315.jpg” width=”468″ height=”315″ alt=”Quick release: Morgan Parra passes the ball out of the scrum” class=”blkBorder” />
Quick release: Morgan Parra passes the ball out of the scrum
‘Their team was star-studded and too good for us. The stats don’t lie and it is becoming increasingly difficult for English teams to get into the semi-finals. There’s no question that this competition is a step up from the league.’
There is now a cap in France, but it is almost double the 4.2million wage limit imposed on English clubs. However, Clermont head coach Vern Cotter denied the outcome was solely caused by a financial disparity, saying: ‘I don’t believe that was the reason for the result.’
Going through: Nathan Hines celebrates with team mate Julien Pierre after winning the Heineken Cup Quater Final
Saracens simply could not live with the relentless physicality of Clermont, who came to Watford armed with an array of Test players from a multitude of countries. They were so dominant before half-time — in front of noisy hordes of travelling fans — that the wonder was that they led just 9-3 at the break.
In the second period, the hosts commanded far more possession but they were chasing the game and their desperate efforts foundered on a white wall. The French side were inspired by their mighty forwards, especially the abrasive ex-Scotland lock Nathan Hines. He had a significant hand in Clermont’s try four minutes after the interval as he drove into a tackle and offloaded neatly to Aurelien Rougerie.
The victors’ dynamic captain ran on and delivered an offload of his own to Morgan Parra, who drew last defender Alex Goode on the right and sent /04/08/article-0-128488AB000005DC-262_468x309.jpg” width=”468″ height=”309″ alt=”Dejection: Steve Borthwick ponders a quarter-final exit” class=”blkBorder” />
Dejection: Steve Borthwick ponders a quarter-final exit
After 60 minutes, the home team had been in their opponents’ 22 precisely once. That figure increased markedly in the final quarter but the scoreboard didn’t reflect the shift in momentum. Saracens were left with just a solitary Owen Farrell penalty to show for all their guts and graft, and the new England icon was forced from the fray midway through the second half with a dead leg.
In five days, McCall’s men are back in league action against London Irish. No doubt, this setback will spur them on as they seek to retain their domestic title.
But the balance of power in Europe has shifted across the Channel and such is the economic gulf, it is hard to see it shifting back any time soon.