Clermont winger Alvereti Raka (l) tries to avoid Chris Wyles (D) from Saracens on 11 December 2017 in London
Forgotten the controversy over the postponement, sluggishness in the Top 14 and the hecatomb at the opening: Clermont shined Monday night in London to end two years of European invincibility Saracens (46-14), thanks to six tests including a triplet of a Raka overflowing.
Defeat the two reigning European champions, unbeaten for 20 games in the event (since the 2015 semi-final against Clermont), at home, in a freezing cold, Clermont was crazy enough to believe and again more to do it.
Finally, the extra 24 hours spent in England following the postponement of the game because of the snow will have been put to good use: a bonus, a revenge on the final and a benchmark performance. Especially, Clermont take the lead in Group 2 and take a big step towards the quarterfinals.
„Winning the double European champions with the bonus, obviously it’s a feat, there are not 500 strategies against these guys, you have to give 150% for the whole match,“ responded Benjamin Kayser.
The hooker did not shun his pleasure, after the lost final of spring and the „anger“ born of the postponement: „Honestly, we have the impression that we were not really respected in the organization of this thing. (…) They made a hole in my heart last May, it feels good to hurt them a bit. “
Because even if the „Sarries“ go wrong at the moment, with five domestic defeats ranking in November and a cascade of injuries including Maro Itoje and Liam Williams, they are still a formidable machine.
But Clermont, on the European scene, is able to raise his level, as he had done in the first two days, the Ospreys (26-21) and against Northampton (24-7).
„It will remain three unforgettable days because there is the victory behind,“ said Franck Azéma. „There are unexpected things that create a band, a dynamic, maybe it can be part of it, we spent three days on top of each other, and behind something intense, so it’s more positive.“
Without its openers Lopez, Fernandez and McAlister, all wounded, Azema had chosen to establish Toeava in N.10. The New Zealander gave a decidedly offensive turn to a wild Clermont.
The Auvergnats kicked off their match in the wake of an ultra-domineering scrum that saved them several times in hard times.
From the 14th minute, the untenable Penaud, tenured at the last minute after the lump sum of Lamerat, took the hole. Fofana further maneuvered across and crossed with Raka, who did the rest (7-0).
– Six tries –
Clermont winger Alvereti Raka (d) tries to avoid Chris Wyles (L) from Saracens on 11 December 2017 in London
The clever Raka then took advantage of the domination to sneak up a ruck for the second try (14-0, 21).
He then pushed the nail on a superbly executed combination (21-0, 26).
The European champions reacted in force with a penalty test on a maul. Lee received a yellow card (29) and 14 against 15, the „Jaunards“ suffered.
But in the hard, Vahaamina and Yato defended well and Clermont reached the break with a comfortable lead (24-7).
And then Raka folded the match. Served in his 22 meters, the winger was embarking on an incredible solitary raid to finish with a pass after contact for Van der Merwe for the bonus (31-7, 47).
Fofana scored a fifth try (60), converted by Parra with a 100% foot (7 of 7). Toeva then crossed the line to perfect a flattering score (78) and a feat that will remain to be confirmed to Marcel-Michelin Sunday during the second leg.
This success „does not give us anything if we are not champions of Europe“, recalled Morgan Parra. „It allows us to tell ourselves that we are on the right track,“ warned the captain. „We are expecting a very big game.“