The Human Hurdle Attempt


Ludovic Mercier crazy reverse pass


Lee Jones makes huge trysaving tackle


Prop lays into fullback with big shot


Benito Masilevu's huge side-steps


Samu Manoa Huge Hit on Billy Twelvetrees


Hala'ufia crunches then slaps Wilson


Richard Hibbard & Kalamafoni double hit


Rugby's first ever OWN TRY in NRC

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Saracens fly through to Cup Final after dominant performance vs Clermont

Saracens cruised through to the Heineken Cup Final following a physically dominant performance against Clermont at Twickenham. They reach the final for the first time, where they will hope to back up their 46-6 victory with a win over champions Toulon.

Saracens flew out the blocks and put in a mammoth physical effort in the first twenty minutes at HQ. Namibian Jacques Burger and South African Schalk Brits in particular were everywhere, with Burger chopping down runners and Brits adding his usual finesse with ball in hand.

Man of the Match Burger made 27 tackles in what was one of the finest tackling displays ever seen. 

"You talk about putting your body on the line, there's no one that does it more than him. When you see people hitting like that it makes you want to do it," said teammate Owen Farrell.

"I know if I was playing against him, you'd be looking for where he is all the time because you wouldn't want him hitting you from the blindside," he added.

By halftime Saracens were 24-6 up, following a Chris Ashton try and a contentious Nigel Owens awarded Penalty Try and yellow card for Clermont flyhalf Brock James. They also scored through Farrell, who eventually got on the end of a nice bit of play down the right hand flank. 

Ashton picked up an opportunistic try in the second half, taking him to a record tally for this seasons tournament, and his second of the match. With under ten minutes left, he got his hands on the ball again and sparked a well created try for Chris Wyles, as Clermont looked dead and buried.

Tim Streather added a try late in the game as Saracens completed a very impressive showing that totally blew the French side off the park. They'll face the Top 14 leaders in the final, following Toulon's victory over Munser in the second Semi Final earlier today.

Below are quick highlights of the match, featuring the tries that were scored

Posted at 7:23 pm | 51 comments

Jacques Burger's tackling masterclass on Rugby Tonight

Mouritz Botha crunches the Sharks' Jean Deysel

Chris Ashton' sneaky try from pinpoint Owen Farrell kick

Namibian Jacques Burger's big hit on Fijian Akapusi Qera

Schalk Brits' incredible performance in 2011 Final

Gcobani Bobo and Chris Ashton's duel at Kingston Park

Chris Ashton's brilliant try against the Wallabies

Posted in Heineken Cup Knockout Stages

Viewing 51 comments

No9scrum April 27, 2014 8:20 pm

Penelty try is very harsh in my opinion!

Dont think theres anyway james knows where the ball is after the first attemted catch!

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Reality April 29, 2014 8:40 pm

I'm inclined to think it was a deliberate knock into touch when seen in ultra slow-motion, but whether it was deliberate or not that penalty try isn't just a harsh call - it's simply incorrect. Penalty tries are to be given where a try probably would have been scored had it not been for the illegal intervention, and in this case the Saracens player was already on the ground and there was no one else nearby ready to ground it, so a try would almost definitely NOT have been scored if James hadn't done what he did. A card and penalty would have been debatable but the penalty try is just wrong. Ridiculous from Nigel.

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jimmy23 April 27, 2014 8:40 pm

I agree the penalty try was fairly harsh, but at the end of it Saracens still won by 40 points. They were clearly on fire that day in every department and I think even if they weren't awarded a penalty try they probably would have won anyway. Maybe that seems like a bit of a bold statement but honestly I don't know what team would have been capable of breaking that defence.

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UpTheLowEnd April 29, 2014 10:39 am

Whilst I do agree that they would have won regardless, it appeared that Claremont's morale dropped dramatically after that try was given. I'd say it was definitely the wrong call and whilst sarries were most definitely good for the win, I don't think they were as good as the scoreline suggests.

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jimmy23 April 30, 2014 8:30 pm

I don't think that they're moral would have dropped THAT significantly, still 65 minutes to go and only 11 points down. In the 2011 final Leinster would have had every reason to give up 22-6 down at halftime, instead they scored 27 unanswered points.
The most moral sapping aspect for Clermont would have be having to face that relentless defence, so even if it was only 5 tries instead of 6 I don't think that would have made the win any less impressive

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Jimmynee April 27, 2014 9:27 pm

With the penalty try, it's hard to tell if the ball was travelling backwards when Brook James knocks it out. Looks like it might have been then it would have been a try scoring opportunity. Would be interesting to know what Nigel Owen's other options have been. Fofana not attempting to get anywhere near Farrell for his try reflects how one team just wanted this game more than the other.

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Vladimir April 28, 2014 5:47 am

Overall, there were very awful perfomances from referees this week-end. Let's reckon some arguable decisions are casual in a rugby match, but in both there were sloppy, if not biaised, decisions that in the first case completely killed the french team fighting spirit after 20mins of play, and nearly did the same in the second match. What on earth happened?

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Oliver April 28, 2014 7:16 am

after the 2011 world cup final, this? Tell me again it is French paranoia and that no referee has it in for us Froggies....
Seriously, never again will I bother watching a game where a French side is refereed by Nigel Owens. We all know the outcome and it's bad for my tension.

In this case, I believe Saracens would have won anyway. They played brilliantly so kudos to them, but with so many suspect calls, the game just isn't very enjoyable to watch. It COULD have been a cracker of a game.....IF it was fairly refereed.

Rant over.

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O*N April 28, 2014 7:49 am

Well just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not after you. Welsh hate when Roland refs, Irish hate when Barnes or Poite ref, English commentators seem to love Poite, and then the French think that everyone is against them. The one uniting point is surely that Steve Walsh is a gobshite.

My theory for this weekend is that if the refs were reversed this weekend both matches would have been closer. Sarries would have been penalised more by Barnes and Owens would have allowed more Munster counter-rucking, less wrong decisions from mauls and less arbitrary/wrong decisions from scrums.

I think the real root of paranoia from the French is, aside from the deep seeded belief that the world can be divided into 'The French' and the encroaching evil otherness of 'le monde Anglo-Saxon', that refereeing standards are piss-poor in the Top 14. The breakdown is an absolute free-for-all and hardly refereed at all. Then French teams are surprised when it's reffed differently at European and international level and French supporters are convinced that the English speaking world is ganging up on them. N'est pas?

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bib160 April 28, 2014 8:29 am

As a french i agree on most of what you said. the only decent ref we have in the top14 is Poite.
The interpretation of the breakdown area is completely different in top14 vs Hcup, that is something french team know and should deal with by analyzing video the ref during the week before the game, plus the player named captain should speak a decent enough english to be able to dialog with the ref during the game.
The conspiracy theory, is based more on the litigious actions (dangerous tackle, fights, TMO decison about a foward pass...) it seem that it thoses 50/50% cases, referres decision never go the french way. I'm not saying that in that specific case Owens is wrong (it's his interpretation of the weird movement of james arms after the first catch) it's just that it seems that the french are always on the wrong side. the only time a decision went the french way was the Warburton tackle on Clerc during the WC semi final and there are countless example of harsh decisions against the french side (either national team or in european competitions)

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Baloney April 28, 2014 7:56 pm

All refs are against the French, which is why in the RWC Michalak's 10m forward pass to beat NZ didn't get called up? Nothing 'ever' goes your way, especially if you ignore all the stuff that does go your way.

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stroudos April 28, 2014 8:56 am

@Oliver - it is French paranoia and the refs do not have it in for you froggies.

You're welcome.

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Oliver April 28, 2014 9:40 am

Merci !
Much better now, I'll take a pill and go to bed.


More seriously: I just realized I got Joubert confused with Owens.....Which is why I brought up the 2011 final..... *shakes head in shame and leaves the room*

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DrG April 28, 2014 11:24 am

I think the RWC 2011 final will remain quite suspect for a few people for a long time, the analysis I've seen from NON-French panels has shown quite a few decisions which were given against France were later not given against NZ, so I think the French are allowed to feel fairly hard done by as a result.

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matt April 29, 2014 4:42 pm

This might be true. But I think the French might be on thin ice complaining about refereeing performances in world cups costing them. Especially against the Kiwis. I personally think it is hilarious when either of those teams lose, but I was a little bit surprised at how much help the French got in 2007.

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Reality April 29, 2014 7:25 pm

Matt, the French got away with one forward pass in the 2007 quarter-infal but it's not like New Zealand didn't get away with stuff in that match as well. McCaw, for example, as per usual got away with murder for the whole match which I'd argue makes up for that forward pass. Then France were completely screwed over in the 3rd place play-off, so I don't remember them being helped that much.

Then, for 2011, outside of New Zealand it's pretty much universally accepted that Craig Joubert had at best an eyebrow-raising performance so I think they really are justified in complaining about a referee's performance costing them in that case.

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matt April 29, 2014 9:57 pm

In my memory they got more than just a favourable forward pass call in 2007. But either way it turned out to be the difference.
I wouldn't ever say that they got a fair deal in 2011, but I think still whining about it 2 years later is a bit pathetic when the luck they got the previous time, at home, is taken into account.

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DrG April 30, 2014 8:32 am

Sort of with Reality on this one Matt, but only because that is the only thing I ever hear a Kiwi mention, it's that 'one forward pass' rather than, 'everything AND that one forward pass'...

Luck is one thing, downright; at best, eyebrow-raising refereeing (as Reality put it) is certainly another. As for the Whining 2 years on, if France had beaten NZ in 2011, we'd still be hearing about that 'forward pass'.

I think as well, the way France went from dire underdogs to making the finals and playing the better game in 2011 makes it a harder pill for them to swallow than an evenly matched quarter final game in 2007 where a forward pass changed the outcome.

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kanpai April 28, 2014 10:56 am

Same feelings here.
Owens is going down in my opinion, even if i thought last year he finally achieve being one of the best referee in the world. It's been two consecutive H-cup games were he made the same mistakes - not giving a fair referring to the two teams -.
But Clermont should have try to deal with it, and the lack of reactions clearly show Saracens deserves it more.

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DanKnapp April 28, 2014 7:31 pm

In American sports it's called the Sports Illustrated effect. A player goes downhill after being featured on the cover of SI. Of course, the reality is that it is nigh on impossible to stay on top form for ever without a dip. Owens has been SO good for a while that it's pretty much impossible to go anywhere but down.

He's still an utterly brilliant ref, but he will make mistakes, and it is inevitable that he'll be seen to be getting worse. But worse than exceptional is still pretty fucking awesome.

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Tintin April 28, 2014 7:58 am

The main issue is rules interpretation - Same game with different referees could have different outcomes - I do hope that all referees are honestly doing their best. An harmonisation and a better use of the video is urgently requested - Or are the current rules given too much room for interpretation?

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ConnachtMan April 28, 2014 9:11 am

"laws" not " rules"

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ConnachtMan April 28, 2014 9:17 am

Wrong call ( penalty try) by Owens, in that it was not clear that try would have been scored ( note the ball was al lover the place and close to the line)

http://www.irblaws.com/index.php?highlight=penalty try&law=12.1

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Leadbitter April 28, 2014 10:13 am

But Saracens were awesome were they not?
I am delighted for Chris Ashton - 100% class act and still (objectively) the best winger in Europe by a long way.

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kanpai April 28, 2014 10:52 am

To be honest, before the try refused to Clermont i think it was still a 50/50 match.
Then, Clermont clearly stopped fighting, so i wouldn't say Saracens were awesome. They were simply just more into it.
And about Ashton, i'm sorry, but he is neither class act (even during this match he still show his lack of fair-play) nor even close to the best wingers, he will have to prove he can deal with a stronger opponents (i don't remember seeing him doing anything against Toulouse for example). However, I'll admit that he seems to be less selfish in his play.

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DrG April 28, 2014 11:25 am

Are you throwing a bit of bait out there with that?

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Leadbitter April 28, 2014 11:55 am

The big DR.G - yes.
Saying that, were you not the guy that told me Courtney Lawes was no big deal? I await your critique of Ash with joyful anticipation.

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DrG April 28, 2014 2:54 pm

I admitted somewhere in the past that I had not been wowed by Courtney Lawes as much as others had. I felt that the international scene in which he was entering into very much made him anonymous and he did not (at the time) deserve the huge hype surrounding him.

I personally have found that to be true up until very recently when perhaps a combination of fitness (no injury), experience and motivation made him shine like a diamond. I did mention after he played some fantastic rugby (on the international scene) that I am happy to have been proven wrong, although at the time I made the original comments I believe they were true.

As for Ashton, I thought when he first came onto the big scene (again I refer to the international side of things) he was a fantastic player, I felt he offered a huge impact in his support running and general work rate. Then it was all downhill, he appeared to become complacent, for arguments sake: "my try rate per game secures my place in the team" was the sentiment. He appeared to either be shut down or unable to find the gaps, he started to look cocky without the ability behind him to back up the attitude and he continued to get his feathers ruffled each game. I think the time out of the England shirt has given him the chance to reflect on his own game, regroup and mature somewhat and will hopefully be able to see him WORK his way back into an England squad/team.

As for the best winger in Europe? I'll leave that for the others to pick at...

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Leadbitter April 28, 2014 3:11 pm

I think that's a very fair assessment Dr.G - of both players.
Brian Moore had a good couple of sentences in today Telegraph column;
"the sharpness of Chris Ashton was significant not only for fans but also the watching England management. It is churlish not to acknowledge Ashton’s return to form, and the work it has taken, just because you do not like the way he celebrates – and I do not."

In fact - whole article worth a read.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/rugbyunion/european-rugby/10791820/Saracens-deserve-credit-not-criticism-for-becoming-one-of-the-strongest-teams-in-European-club-rugby.html





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Leadbitter April 28, 2014 11:10 am

Crumbs Kanpai..tough audience.
At the highest level; CH scores two, sets up two (did you see that pass after he re-gained balance after he tracked the inside line and exploded through the middle) and does not miss a tackle. You seem upset - which is fine, but give a brother a break, he was terrific.
What was Burgers 27 hits in 62 minutes - OK or fair to middling?

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kanpai April 28, 2014 12:27 pm

I think i wasn't clear. I didn't mean Ashton wasn't good during this game. In fact, he was, and despite that Clermont stop fighting back, his game was still pretty impressive.
What i'm saying, it's that he is not overall one of the best winger in Europe. When the opposition is tougher, he often just disappear of the screen, he is (at least this year) not a game-winner player. He is good finisher, he added to that a bit of team play, but he still need to improve to international level.

About Burger, i don't get it. Did i say he was bad ? Once again, i don't say Saracens had a bad game, just that Clermont wasn't a strong opponents (on this game).

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Bagsofsmoke April 28, 2014 2:57 pm

Re. Ashton, I disagree.

In an England context, we've lacked finishing ability out wide. Throughout the 6N, Nowell and May looked totally innocuous. They worked hard, they made tackles, they made the odd break, but never looked like scoring. Nowell eventually scored a sitter, but his try-scoring record, even for Exeter, is absolutely terrible (I think he's scored 2 tries all season, including his England one).

Ashton is on fire this season. He's just set a record in Europe's most demanding club competition, ffs - if that doesn't mark him out as one of Europe's best wingers, what does?

He's also, on the evidence of this season, taken criticisms on board. His defence and kick chase are much improved, and he's back playing with confidence, tracking runners. His hands are also very good, as we saw from that superb long pass after his break.

I'd like to see him back in an England shirt this summer - he's streets ahead of May and Nowell, and he's done more than Yarde, Wade or any of the other contenders (and I accept that those two have had injuries this season).

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DrG May 02, 2014 11:04 am

You haven't really disputed what Kanpai said as much as just say that Ashton is the best out of an 'ok/average' bunch...

In terms of England wingers, he is no top dog yet...

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Woodsy April 28, 2014 1:45 pm

CA becomes the all time top try scorer in a Heineken cup season and you say he's not one of the best in Europe? Do me a favour

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Guy April 28, 2014 2:39 pm

Ashton always got a disproportionate amount of slack for his showboating. I really wonder how many hatefull comments people like Rockocoko/Serevi/Paulse/Ioane and even Shane Williams (remember his last try in the red jersey?) received.

I agree with you: to me he looks like a quality player (which he proves objectively by scoring 11 tries in a HC campaign that has not yet finished). And until proven otherwise I believe he is okay as a human being too.

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Dave April 28, 2014 2:43 pm

The amount of hate he receives from english fans is inversely proportional to the amount of tries he scores for england. I don't remember everyone complaining about the Ash Splash when he scored that try v Australia.

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ConnachtMan April 28, 2014 2:43 pm

Shane Williams had a long distinguished career, on maybe 1 or 2 occasions he did a show boat, Ashton conversely probably does an Ash Splash every time he goes to bed, I admire his speed and agility but sorry I dont care for him as a rugby player, he comes across as an oaf. Give me players with humility any time.

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DanKnapp April 28, 2014 7:38 pm

I'm with you ConnachtMan. I didn't like the Ash Splash at any point. Do it once or twice, but not every time you score(d) for England. I thought it was disrespectful.

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matt April 29, 2014 4:50 pm

I don't like the Ash Splash particularly, I think it is unnecessary and has something of the football mindset about it. However, since we only see it when he scores, he could get his knob out and rub it on the camera if he wants, so long as he brings in the points for England.

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UpTheLowEnd April 29, 2014 6:03 pm

...that made me laugh more than i'm prepared to admit.

Re. the ash splash, i'm not entirely against the whole showboating aspect of it, if you've done the work you've earned it, but one day he's gonna spill that ball and cost his team (England or sarries) in a big way.

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matt April 29, 2014 10:01 pm

Having said that I don't like it, I will now switch sides to say that I don't think he will ever cost either side 'in a big way'. My reasoning is that he doesn't ALWAYS do it. For example, his first try he had the time and space to do it, but didnt. My guess would be that he is aware of the risk (you'd have to be dead not to), and considered it to be too high in the opening minutes of a game like this one.
So he may eventually drop one, but my guess is that it'll be a score that they really could have done fine without anyway.

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DrG May 02, 2014 11:10 am

@matt you might be right, but he'll still look like a tool when he does drop it.. and it'll be a huge focal point in his career...

'Remember that time he went as red as the English rose when the ash splash went wrong'...

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kanpai April 28, 2014 2:54 pm

Yes, i do say he is not one of the best.
But that is my opinion, based on what i think an exceptionnal winger should be. And to me he lacks of creativity, of madness. To give you example, Shane Williams or Cedric Heymans are what i consider best wingers. And i don't put Vincent Clerc in it (h-cup try recordman), because i think he is like Ashton, a really good finisher, that benefits from team efforts.
That doesn't mean they're not top players, just not the best to me.

And yes, i don't like Ashton. But that's irrelevant, because a good player is still a good player whether i like him or not. I hate Richie McCaw, but i still think he is a good player.

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Woodsy13 April 30, 2014 4:09 pm

I suppose making and supporting breaks up the middle, setting up tries with long passes, improvising with grubber kicks to score, and scoring in the opposite corner of the pitch show he's not very creative.

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SupaC April 29, 2014 10:24 am

Aston reminds me a bit of Caleb Ralph when he was on the wing for the crusaders. Outside a dominant team, he scored tries all over the show but was for the most part a pretty average winger when it came to the one on one stuff.

Aston's not terrible but a lot of his tries are the result of the hard work that is done by the players inside him. He is a good support player which is working well for him at Saracens but I think his international days are numbered as he isn't really a game breaker (Aussie tried excluded. That was pretty awesome but he hasn't been able to repeat that type of impact for a long time)

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stroudos April 28, 2014 2:00 pm

How good is Brits?

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Jamie Dorman April 30, 2014 10:36 am

Brilliant. Got to feel for him being from the same country as Bismarck though. Such a lovely man as well, came and shook hundreds of fans hands after the match (myself included)

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FrontRowRobbo April 28, 2014 2:37 pm

Owens had a good game in general I thought - tough call with penalty try. Definite yellow and the try was coming regardless if it was a penalty try or a 5m attacking scrum. The obstruction at the other end was 50:50 as well. Regardless, any team - even saturday amature league - dont throw the towel in over a few dodgy calls in the first 20 mins.
Its a shame so much negativity is in the comments when so much good was on show.

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Gerifalte April 28, 2014 2:51 pm

What about Jacques Burger...?? he was everywhere......

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Colombes April 29, 2014 10:55 am

As said many people, this double-decision was key... and was one of the poorest decision in Nigel Owens carreer. But i'm pretty sure he'll be able to do his autocritic afterwards... as this decision turned an enjoyable match in a previsible defeat.

And please stop with this easy conspiracy theory. As a french fan, i hate this kind of excuses. Of course, France will be always considered as "a guest" in the anglosaxon rugby circle... But the best answer is to continue to play rugby, try to beat them and stop complain.

Sarries vs Toulon will be an interesting contest as Toulon stars didn't meet big opposition in defence in this Hcup... and that Sarries hasn't really been tested in their forward game and had some good fortune vs Clermont and Ulster

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ledetective April 29, 2014 10:55 pm

Frenchs forgot the michalak forward pass because of the Carter forward pass to Mc Alister which leads to the Mc Alister try.

There were so many game spoiled by the refs in H Cup last years.
Just for this year, the few I can remember
Munster-USAP
Munster-Toulouse
Saracens-ASM
of course in these examples, the winner deserved the victory, but the runners-up were simply denied to compete and all spectators ended frustrated

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