Saracens eye European dynasty after Champions Cup success

Saracens 21 Racing 92 9: Welcome to the new world. Just a month before the British decide whether or not to stay in the EU, along come Saracens and rise to the top of European rugby. 

Saracens eye European dynasty after Champions Cup success

And they have every intention of staying there after becoming the first English side in almost a decade to win the European Cup.

Coach Mark McCall, joint captain when Ulster won this competition in 1999, made it clear afterwards that he sees this success as the start and not the end of a journey for the big-spending London club.

“I said during the week, the best of this team is yet to come. It is very young, very experienced, but very young. And we have got a very hungry, very motivated group of players and hopefully in the future there will be more days like this.”

While a new structure may be in place, and the top tier of European rugby is heavily occupied by wealthy clubs from England and France, one old adage seems to hold: A team often has to suffer heartbreak before achieving ultimate success.

Saracens have been knocking on the door in recent years and two seasons ago learned a lot of lessons when they were beaten by Jonny Wilkinson’s Toulon in the final.

“The big thing you learn in those situations is that you are not quite good enough. Toulon were better than us, and they kept us at arm’s length,” said McCall.

“We have really developed individually and collectively over those two years. And when push came to shove out there in this one, and there was a six-point game with 15 minutes to go, there was a lot of composure from the players to get the job done,” said McCall.

Wilkinson may have broken Saracens’ hearts two years ago, but it was the current England No 10 Owen Farrell who inspired this victory, cool as ever off the tee when kicking seven from seven.

And his half-back partner Richard Wigglesworth also produced an inspiring display as their pack eventually wore out the French resistance after Racing 92, appearing in their first final, had initially enjoyed an edge up front. But Racing suffered two major blows at half-back.

They lost French scrum-half Maxime Machenaud, while Dan Carter, relieved of kicking duties from the outset in an effort to prolong his involvement in the game, was only a shadow of himself before he limped off a few minutes after the restart.

By then Racing, whose support vastly outnumbered the Saracens contingent, were trailing 12-6 at the break with Johan Goosen kicking two penalties for them. But they were unable to get their hands on the ball in the second half and it was obvious long before Farrell wrapped up the issue that Ronan O’Gara’s men were going to return to Paris empty-handed.

O’Gara conceded that Saracens were the better side but he is hopeful that Racing will bounce back, although the prospect of going through what he experienced as a player with Munster, when they lost two before winning two, is not very appealing.

“That took us six years, I don’t want that pain again. It’s sickening for the first few hours,” said O’Gara speaking in the splendid Grand Stade de Lyon where the near capacity crowd of 58,000 had witnessed a dour contest punctuated by massive downpours which forced the fans to seek shelter in the bowels of the building.

“But the better team won. It’s easy to move on. It’s bitterly disappointing, finals are all about winning and the winner takes it all. They were better than us in all of the departments, to be honest.

“We could have snuck it, and that’s testament to the character we now have in our group. But the better team won.”

O’Gara said Carter’s injury was a massive blow to their prospects.

“It was a big risk in terms of whether he would play or not. I think he was struggling with his calves. But with a guy with that presence, even at 50%-60%, you want to give him every opportunity.

“But the ball was very greasy, he had one or two errors, and it just shows that it’s not easy when you are preoccupied with an injury. But I think it’s only a few weeks and he will come back.

“And we still have the Top 14 campaign to focus on,” said O’Gara.

RACING 92:

B Dulin; J Rokocoko, J Goosen, A Dumoulin (H Chavancy 57), J Imhoff; D Carter (R Tales 43), M Machenaud (M Phillips 22); E Ben Arous, D Szarzewski (V Lacombe 66), B Tameifuna (L Ducalcon 68); L Charteris, F Van der Merwe (M Carizza 66); W Lauret, B Le Roux (A Claassen 77), C Masoe.

SARACENS:

A Goode; C Ashton, D Taylor (M Bosch 77), B Barritt, C Wyles; O Farrell (C Hodgson 79), R Wigglesworth (B Spencer 79); M Vunipola (R Barrington 77), S Brits (J George 23-31, 52), P Du Plessis (J Figallo 68); M Itoje (J Hamilton 79), G Kruis; M Rhodes (J Wray 55), W Fraser, B Vunipola.

Referee:

N Owens (Wales).

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