Where to start after the fact? On May 13th 2017 Saracens joined good company in retaining the Champions Cup, they did so in one of the best finals for a few years.
I’ve been a Saracens season ticket holder since 2009, and no, I’m not the only one as so many other Premiership rugby fans like to throw out there. Many things have changed in those 8 years, a change of home from Watford to Allianz Park. When I say home, Watford was a ground the team played at, it was never really a home as such, I knew the people I sat next to and that’s about it, I went to the game then left when it was done.
Allianz Park on the other hand sees Saracens as a club, not just a team, for those who can’t travel the games are televised at the ground and a curry laid on, I’ve been a few times and it’s great to shout at the TV in company. For those that can, the Supporters Association have arranged some great get togethers.
I haven’t travelled anywhere near as much as many of my friends this season, but I did make it to Dublin for the semi-final of this competition against Munster and had one of the best weekends I’ve had for a long time, the rugby really was only a small part of it.
The trip for the Final was a prolonged one, by choice, I did a road trip over 4 days with my good friend Monica, we stayed in Cambridge, Lincoln, Harrogate and Seahouses before arriving in North Berwick our base for the weekend. My camera got the shock of its life, there wasn’t a ball in sight! I watch an awful lot of sport and rarely stop to sniff the daisies, I go to the game then back to my hotel, it was a real treat to see some beautiful places on the way up to Scotland.
We met up with a big group of Saracens friends in Edinburgh for dinner before the Challenge Cup Final, the restaurant was perfect, Kurdish, which was very like a Turkish meal, so lots of meat basically, it was ideal for a big group of people. Several of my friends were in Stade Francais shirts, that meant I was in my new Gloucester shirt, I just can’t support a French team over a Premiership Rugby team, I bought a Harlequins shirt last year, I’m going to end up with the full set at this rate!
We went to Murrayfield in a variety of Uber taxis arriving in plenty of time, I’m a big fan of Sergio Parisse, so I was supporting him and Gloucester. Jonny May scored the first try of the evening, an interception saw him storming down the ground to score, Billy Burns added the extras and a penalty to put Gloucester 10 up.
However a Jules Plisson penalty and a converted Parisse try saw Stade even things up. The game wasn’t a thrilling one and Gloucester’s chances were damaged when captain for the evening Willi Heinz took Plisson out with a late, high tackle, he was possibly lucky the card was obey a yellow, but, to contest a final you really need 15 men on the pitch. The match had an edge to it and a punch up, or handbags broke out close to half time, it was the other side from us but again I think players may have been fortunate that no card was brandished.
The second half belonged to the French team; Jonathan Danty and Geoffrey Doumayrou scored tries with Morne Steyn converting the second and adding a penalty to take the French to 25. With a 15 point deficit to chase Gloucester started playing some rugby in the latter part of the game and Ross Moriarty touched down with a minute of the game remaining, Burns conversion closed the gap but it was too little too late. The score finished Gloucester 17 Stade Francais 25 and the team that had lost 4 European finals had a trophy to their name.
Game 2 would see me back in my Saracens shirt, with Fez Boys jacket to compliment it, Monica had even bought a Saracens shirt, they had an extra fan for the day! Monica and I have been to Edinburgh a couple of times for rugby and we went to a restaurant we’ve frequented on other trips, Omar Kayyam, they do one of the best currys I’ve tasted and this was no exception.
That meant we were a bit out of the loop for pre match shenanigans, my Saracens friends numbers were swelled by Glasgow and Toulon fans, friendships had been made in the earlier rounds and they were there to support Saracens, it looked like they had an amazing time!
We went to the ground early, one of the best things about the trip to Dublin was the attitude of the Munster fans after the match, good wishes and congratulations from so many Munster fans. unfortunately a foul mouthed girl of the Munster persuasion was sat behind, she felt the need to sing ‘you can stick your f***ing chariots up your a***” at the top of her voice, which was all a bit strange as England weren’t playing and no one was singing Swing Low Sweet Chariot.
I still don’t have the presumption that Saracens are going to win big matches like these, but wow this is a team that knows how to win. Clermont Auvergene had played in 8 finals since 2001, between the Top 14 and the European Cups and only won 1, this would be a 9th final. Saracens were aiming to retain the cup and set a record of 18 games unbeaten in European rugby.
Aurelian Rougerie lead the French team, he’s another favourite of mine and has been at the club all the way through his career; from 2001 he had made over 350 appearances, but I was most definitely only supporting Saracens for this one!
Saracens started the match at 100 miles an hour, Chris Ashton went very close with minutes on the clock, but was bundled into touch by Nick Abendanon. But Ashton wasn’t’t to be denied when on 12 minutes Alex Goode put a kick across to him, duly gathered he went over with his trademark Ash Splash to become the top try scorer in the European competition, overtaking Vincent Clerc, not a bad parting shot before he leaves for Toulon and the Top 14.
George Kruis added a second try 9 minutes later, with Owen Farrell’s conversion taking the score to 12 nil, the Premiership Rugby team looked to be in control. However a couple of penalties against Saracens gave Clermont territory and they duly scored through Lamerat. The teams went in at half time with the score on Clermont 7 Saracens 12 , this was a tight affair!
Our Munster friend had carried on with her tirade during the half, but just before half time a full pint of beer come flying from the level above, it went over both my camera and Lauren’s sitting next to me, but a poor Glasgow fan behind me was literally soaked, it went all over her head, the poor lady! It didn’t help that several young men leant over and stuck their middle fingers up at us, while laughing their heads off. There was naturally a lot of anger and eventually I believe 3 men were thrown out by the police, not what you expect at a rugby match at all! Or at any sporting event, it took the edge off things for a while.
We were however treated to a great second half, Owen Farrell edged Saracens ahead with a penalty before Nick Abendanon scored running in from 25m out, Scott Spedding had launched a counter attack after receiving the ball from Alex Goode, the ball found it’s way out to the winger after a brilliant offload from Yato, a try appreciated by the whole crowd I’d say, as Abendanon holds a place in most English rugby hearts. We were now at Clermont 14 Saracens 15, the game couldn’t have been any closer.
Farrell and Parra exchanged penalties which left us again with a 1 point game, nail biting doesn’t really cover it! An Alex Goode try saw some daylight open up between the teams with Farrell’s conversion making it a 2 score game. with 5 minutes remaining Camille Lopez had the chance to close the gap with a straight forward penalty, amazingly he put the ball wide of the posts and that trophy edged closer to Saracens, we were starting to believe this was possible again.
Saracens retained possession and territory as the clock counted down, Clermont gave away a penalty in front of their posts, it was a simple one for Farrell and he sealed the deal for the London club. The 2 minutes remaining flew by and Saracens were double European Champions! A wonderful achievement by a special group of men, I really do believe the team ethic is a key factor in the success of this club. Brad Barritt the captain lead by example as always, and left the field early with a nose that looked even more battered than when he started out.
A double Premiership trophy win wasn’t to be for Saracens, they were beaten by the team destined to beat Wasps in the Final, Exeter Chiefs, but, in spite of that, this was a highly successful season, both on and off the field. The team will see some changes next year, with Chris Ashton heading to Toulon and several others either retiring or heading to pastures new. Will Skelton is making a very welcome return and Welshman Liam Williams joining the club. I’m certain friendships will be strengthened amongst the fan base, this is becoming about so much more than rugby!
Monica and I finished off our Road Trip with a stopover in Bakewell in the heart of the Peak District, if we’re honest we got lost on the way, which meant we saw some beautiful Scottish countryside, albeit on a scary road. We stayed in The Rutland Arms, and ate yet more delicious food before making out way home on the Monday. A wonderful trip all round!
The afternoon was made by getting this photo of Josh, I did have to bribe him with a Clermont flag I was given as the game finished, in spite of their disappointment yet again the Clermont fans were a delight!