If you look back to Saracens’ 26-10 victory over Munster at the Aviva Stadium, the first half performance from Mark McCall’s side tells you everything you need to know about this team.
Munster had loads of possession and dominated the territory but that stingy Saracens defence which we have all grown accustomed to just would not wilt and their physicality just shone through. The work-ethic between this group of players is a huge contributing factor towards this. Munster were on the front foot but they just didn’t have the attacking edge. Tyler Bleyendaal kicked too much ball away in the Saracens half and the French side are unlikely to fall into the same trap.
Clermont Auvergne will offer a lot more in attack than Munster and that blistering opening 20 minutes in their semi-final against Leinster is a testament to this. However, Saracens’ defence, led by the merciless Brad Barritt, should be able to handle what Clermont throw at them. In rugby, you often look for the weak link in a defensive system, perhaps a slow front row or second row forward but with Mark McCall’s side, you have the likes of Maro Itoje and George Kruis. These two have an incredible work rate and they are never a weakness defensively.
I think Saracens will strangle the life out of them, they will be physically dominant and it will come down to the battle of the breakdown. I can’t wait to watch the battle of the back-rows, especially Fritz Lee against Billy Vunipola. The flyhalf battle will be intriguing, too. The control that Owen Farrell brings at ten against the maverick that is Camille Lopez. Lopez has the ability to create tries for his own team but also to give away a couple as well.
One of the few things which could fall in Clermont’s favour is how the offside line is officiated. Against Munster, I thought Saracens got away, not with murder, but they were living right on the edge at times and their penalty count was high. Nigel Owens will be refereeing and hopefully, he will allow a fair contest at the breakdown. If Owens marshalls the offside line well, then that’s potentially where Saracens could get opened up. Undoubtedly, with players like David Strettle, Nick Abendanon and Remi Lamerat, they’ve got the ability to open them up but if Saracens are always on the front foot, then it will be a long afternoon for Clermont.
I think Saracens will win by 10 points – I just think they’ll drain the life out of Clermont like they did to Munster.