Saracens will be kicking themselves after leaving Clermont Auvergne empty-handed in their return to the Heineken Cup.
Clermont did not create a huge number of chances in the game, but they didn't need to as Saracens did much of the hard work for them through carelessly giving away penalties and turnovers. The final moments of the match summed it up well as Saracens, desperately pushing for three points to earn a losing bonus point, gifted away possession for Clermont to seal the win with an easy try for Napolioni Nalaga.
Both sides missed penalty attempts in the opening exchanges before Jamie Cudmore crossed for the French champions in the 10th minute. The Canadian took advantage when Derick Hougaard's pass did not reach its intended target, Hugh Vyvyan, and sprinted 10 yards to touch down. Morgan Parra added the extras to make it 7-0.
Hougaard then took advantage when the referee sin-binned Cudmore, converting the resultant penalty to reduce the arrears. The numerical disadvantage did little to help Saracens though as, with tempers on both sides becoming increasingly frayed, Julien Malzieu crossed for the hosts' second try after 25 minutes.
Parra's conversion attempt was wayward, but Saracens could not respond as they struggled to maintain possession with indiscipline creeping in.
As the half drew to a close, the Londoners began to show and had the chance to reduce their deficit on the stroke of half-time when Davit Zirakashvili was penalised and sent to the sin bin, but Hougaard could not convert.
Saracens needed to respond early in the second half and did so quickly with a fine move. A quick break saw them have a man over on the wing and a quick exchange of passes allowed David Strettle to score easily before Hougaard converted.
However, mistakes at the other end allowed Clermont pull back to five points clear as Parra kicked a penalty.
Saracens were continuing to hurt themselves with mistakes, passing up good opportunities with misplaced passes and handing the initiative back to the hosts. Parra made them pay once again in the 65th minute with another penalty that made it 18-10.
Saracens got back into a good position, but another careless penalty gave the ball back to Clermont and a booming kick put them in striking distance. However, they could not punch it in and Saracens stayed alive. They almost got a huge break when a dropped ball from Malzieu gave Strettle room to run but Nalaga got in a critical tackle.
Hougaard had a chance to get Saracens into range for a losing bonus point with five minutes to go, but missed his penalty and the game ended in huge frustration for the Londoners as they gifted Clermont a late try. Aurelien Rougerie pounced on a loose ball and teed up Nalaga to go over, with Parra converting with the last kick of the game to rub salt in Saracens' wounds.