Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 27 December 2014

McCall revels in Saracens success

Mark McCall's side cruised into their first European final after crushing Clermont Auvergne 46-6
Mark McCall's side cruised into their first European final after crushing Clermont Auvergne 46-6

Saracens rugby director Mark McCall hailed "a phenomenal performance" from his record-breaking team after they rewrote Heineken Cup semi-final history at Twickenham.

The runaway Aviva Premiership leaders cruised into their first European final after crushing French heavyweights Clermont Auvergne 46-6 at Twickenham.

They never looked back after building an 18-point interval advantage through a penalty try and touchdowns by wing Chris Ashton and fly-half Owen Farrell.

Ashton's second try after the break gave him a new record of 11 touchdowns in one European season, while substitutes Chris Wyles and Tim Streather also touched down, and Saracens could even afford for Farrell to pass on goalkicking duties to full-back Alex Goode.

England number 10 Farrell had not practised while he recovered from a foot injury ahead of the game, and Goode slotted five out of six conversions, plus a penalty as Clermont were reduced to rubble.

Centre Marcelo Bosch added a long-range penalty for good measure, with Clermont scrum-half Morgan Parra landing two first-half strikes as Saracens posted a record tournament semi-final victory.

Saracens will now face Jonny Wilkinson's Toulon or twice European champions Munster - they meet in Marseille on Sunday - in next month's Millennium Stadium final.

The only disappointment for Saracens and tournament officials was a two-thirds empty Twickenham that begged the question why European Rugby Cup organisers did not take the game to nearby Madejski Stadium in Reading, among other alternative venues.

"I thought it was a phenomenal performance. It was built on incredible effort and work-rate." McCall said.

"The plan was to put them under pressure that they had not been under all season and I think we achieved that.

"We all realise that today was one of those days where everything that could have gone right went right and that today is a tremendous memory for us, but that it is also the vehicle for something hopefully bigger and better towards the end of May.

"Just after the penalty try, they had a period of pressure in our 22 and we had to defend for our lives against a really good team. We kept them out and I think that was significant."

McCall paid tribute to Saracens flanker Jacques Burger, who made an astonishing 27 tackles as he continued his comeback from a knee injury that at one stage threatened his career.

"Jacques' story is incredible, really," McCall added.

"This time last year it looked like it would be over for him. He makes an incredible sacrifice to play and he was inspirational. He gave everything that he had for the team.

"We talk about progressing and trying to get better as a group. The pressure we applied today led to the attacking opportunities we got."

McCall also paid tribute to Ashton, who is currently out of favour with England boss Stuart Lancaster as the RBS 6 Nations runners-up prepare for a three-Test tour of New Zealand this summer.

"We are all thrilled for Ashy," McCall said.

"He is someone who comes in for a lot of unnecessary criticism and hopefully he gets the breaks he is due today. He made good decisions all the way through. He had a great game."

Saracens scrum-half Neil de Kock, meanwhile, said: "It puts us in a good position to create an even better memory.

"The self-belief this team has, to come up against a team like Clermont and keep everything out there on the pitch, we promised ourselves we would do that."

Clermont head coach and Scotland chief-elect Vern Cotter had no complaints about the result.

"Technically, they hurt us quite a lot," Cotter said. "It was pretty difficult, and we need to congratulate them.

"Of course, the result is difficult to accept. Nothing has worked today and it was tough.

"It is difficult. The Heineken Cup is over for us, but we still have the (French) Top 14 and the season is not over. We will shift quickly to that.

"As a group, we set objectives. We move on and our next objective is the Top 14. This one is finished and we will move to the next one."

And Clermont goalkicker Parra added: "Forty points or a one point difference, we lost. We need to take responsibility for our actions."

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