Now then – the title here may well be a tad misleading! I didn’t make my 2nd trip to France in so many weeks, with other commitments it was a trip too far.
So I did the next best thing and travelled to Allianz Park to watch the game with fellow fans, is that worthy of writing about? Do you know what, I think it is, and you’ll hopefully agree if you read on.
Saracens moved to their new home in January 2014 and from that point things started to change as a fan. The rugby had improved while Saracens were at Watford, but the fan experience was I would say cold.
I knew the people I sat next to, lovely people with a passion for the club, and was getting to know others through the power of Twitter.
But Allianz Park has enabled real friendships to grow, having a place to socialise in numbers before and after the game has made a real difference.
Having a new stand in the stadium enabled the club to build in hospitality areas, and on game day there are 3 main areas. The 100 Club, The Fez Club and The Tulip Club, all provide varying degrees of food and drink.
I’ve been lucky enough to be in both the 100 Club and the Tulip Club, both have been high quality and the Tulip Club in particular must be amongst some of the best on offer in sport.
Those facilities are put to very good use when Saracens are away from home. Last season the 100 Club was opened up, a curry laid on and the game was played on screens around the room. Great for those who don’t have Sky or BT Sport.
I can’t live without either, but still like to go along because for one thing it feels less freakish shouting at a TV in a room full of people doing the same than sitting alone doing so! But also because it;s great to spend time with good friends!
In line with my sporting year I had arranged to go to a football match, but that was cancelled leaving me free to go and watch the European Champions Cup semi-final live.
Only one thing to report about my M25 journey – yes there still appeared to be glass in the 2 inside lanes!! Yet when I drove in them it was all safe and good! Note to fellow M25 drivers – you are allowed in the inside lanes!
I parked up up and walked into the ground, I had a chat with Andy Fraser – ever present Stadium Safety Officer about what was going on at Allianz Park that weekend and in the previous week.
At the time I arrived London Irish U14’s were playing Southend U14’s – Middlesex & Herts U23’s were playing that evening. The QPR Youth players were being assessed for their health and fitness in the area below the stand that afternoon as well.
The following day – Sunday 19th April – sees a Holocaust Remembrance Event – Yom Hashoah – taking place at Allianz. An event that will see 4000 people of all faiths from all over the world descend. Andy explained that preparations would start at 10pm that evening.
On May 9th the stadium sees a cricket match! An Indian Celebrity game – now that will be interesting! It’s plain that the facilities are being put to very good use!
Back to this event in particular – I arrived reasonably early and found that my good friends Sharon and Alun had nabbed a good table in the 100 Club.
All 3 sections were open as one huge area and Andy Duckworth of Saracens estimated that 550-600 people had made the effort to come and watch the game. That made for a great atmosphere!
A meal is laid on for those who want it – I had barbecue chicken (in a roll I didn’t eat) with a few chips and salad – for £8. Other options were burgers, bratwurst sausage and roast pork baps. The food is generally good quality and good value.
More Saracens friends had arrived when I got back to the table – Steve and Clare with Steve’s daughters Hannah and Beth – it ha stop be said Steve is pretty funny, always good to add a laugh to the day!
A small mention of the game – Saracens faced an uphill battle to beat Clermont Auvergne on French soil. Although St Etienne isn’t home for the French team it is a ground they’re used to playing in. And of course the crowd was predominantly French.
Saracens beat Clermont 46 to 6 in the corresponding fixture last season – but at Twickenham. Clermont were totally out of sorts that day it was highly unlikely to happen for a second time.
The game was a hard fought, close one, both teams made uncharacteristic errors, defended well and made their best effort to talk the few chances offered.
Clermont Auvergne were to be the eventual winners of a very tight game – Wesley Fofana scored the only try of the game, after a great chip kick from Butch James saw him catch the ball and run into acres of space to touch the ball down, James then converted the try adding to the penalty he’d scored in the 1st half. He scored another 3 points with a further penalty
Charlie Hodgson had put his team ahead in the 1st half with 2 penalties, Owen Farrell added a further 3 points in the 2nd half.
The score finished Clermont Auvergne 13 Saracens 9 – and so the French ‘nearly’ men march on to the final.
The gathered fans were subdued as the game finished – yet not unhappy at the efforts of their team. We’d been treated to 4 of the LV Cup winners chatting at half time as well as posing for photos with the cup.
The next piece of silverware on offer is the Premiership winners trophy. Saracens can now concentrate on winning their 3 remaining games to put themselves in the top 2.
A smooth journey home for me – and yes, there was glass in the opposite direction too!
Match report to follow at InTheLoose.com