Throwback Thursday: Saracens’ European triumphs
When it comes to winning in Europe, Saracens know how to get things done.
With a third Champions Cup triumph in four years on the line this weekend when they take on the competition’s reigning champions Leinster at St James’ Park, stakes don’t get much higher.
But the most decorated side in the Champions Cup era have recent history to lean on, experiences that Mark McCall and his squad will no doubt be drawing from in their preparation for this year’s showpiece.
With that in mind, let’s take a look back at the Londoners’ pair of Champions Cup titles.
2016: Saracens 21-9 Racing 92
It would be fair to say that Saracens blitzed the 2015/16 Champions Cup.
Entering the tournament as reigning Premiership Rugby champions, hopes were high as they looked to translate their form onto the European stage.
And they duly delivered, winning all six of their pool games at a canter, picking up four bonus points and finishing with a points differential of +147 to set up a quarter-final clash against domestic rivals Northampton Saints.
In their first true test of the campaign, the Londoners went into the break 10-6 down after a sub-par display, but for scores from Chris Ashton and Chris Wyles to cap a gritty turnaround, booking them a final-four spot against another familiar face.
— Saracens Rugby Club (@Saracens) May 7, 2019
This time it was Wasps in what was set up as a battle between the old master and the young upstart, Wasps having already notched a pair of Champions Cup titles in the early noughties.
Once again it was close; once again Saracens started poorly; once again they fought back.
After just a minute played, Dan Robson crossed for Wasps, but a combination of Owen Farrell’s boot and Saracens’ now trademark grit saw them grind out a 24-17 victory.
And so, it was to be a second Champions Cup final in three years for McCall’s men – this time entering the decider looking to dash memories of their agonising defeat to Toulon back in 2014.
While their conquerors then were unable to challenge for what would have been a fourth Champions Cup triumph on the spin, it was instead another French side who stood between Saracens and glory.
This time they weren’t going to make the same mistakes, clear from the off that they had resolved to control things throughout and keep risks to a minimum.
It was Farrell who was once again their hero on the day, scoring all 21 of their points from the tee to seal a 21-9 win and European elation.
2017: Saracens 28-17 Clermont
Heading into the 2016-17 tournament, expectations were different; Saracens had got the monkey off their back and swapped it for a target as they became the team to beat.
They again started their pool stage in whirlwind style, before a 22-22 draw at Scarlets dented their perfect record and left them to settle for a third-place seeding in the knockouts.
Not a problem, however, for the Londoners, as Glasgow Warriors fell victim to their ruthless brand of rugby, Chris Ashton scoring twice and Farrell once again crucial with the boot as he added 18 points of his own to cap a 38-13 triumph.
A stern test followed in the semis, with Irish giants Munster laying in wait, and the Londoners were pushed to their limit in a bruising first half at the Aviva Stadium.
— Saracens Rugby Club (@Saracens) May 9, 2019
Leading 6-3 at the break, Saracens broke free of the shackles in the second 40, Wyles and Mako Vunipola crossing and Farrell once again incisive from the tee as they booked a place in a second consecutive final with a 26-10 win.
Just as was the year before, they would meet French opposition in the final, with the decider against Clermont separating Saracens from eternity.
Victory, and they would not only retain their title, but in the process break the record for the longest unbeaten run in the tournament’s history.
And things were looking good 20 minutes in, as first Ashton and then George Kruis crossed the whitewash, but Clermont fought back, drawing to within a point when Nick Abendanon crossed with half an hour remaining.
But Saracens showed their class, steadying the ship before Alex Goode made things safe in the final ten minutes, helping the Gallagher Premiership Rugby side to an historic 28-17 triumph, and a European double.