Saracens can confirm their status as Europe’s rugby powerhouse by retaining the Champions Cup against Clermont Auvergne at Murrayfield on Saturday.
The ex-England worldwide spent five years with Saracens before agreeing to join Clermont in 2015 before eventually calling time on his playing career.
Sport is all about setting new standards and in club rugby the team leading the way is Saracens.
But while the final celebrations sparked wild celebrations among his team-mates, the 30-year-old was left in a reflective mood.
He added: “There were some players we really felt strongly needed to rest for this game and a couple of players who were just carrying small things which had this been the semi-final with nothing next week they would have played”. We’ve worked so hard for the past five or six years. Some of it on my part has been life-changing. I’m just glad to go out on a high.
“It takes a certain type of club to keep coming back as they have done”.
“I won’t lie, I’m pretty happy about the record”.
“It will be odd playing against Saracens as I haven’t played them since I left”.
“It’s nice for my name to be up there but a lot of the credit belongs to this club”.
Normally, those key forwards will have put in far more hours on the pitch and in training at the climax of the season, but all four are fresh and peaking at the right time before heading off to New Zealand with the Lions.
Saracens continued to push and got their reward as George Kruis crashed over on 22 minutes. With space opening up out wide, Peceli Yato then rampaged down the left – taking out Ashton and Farrell as he went – before passing off to Abendanon to run in unopposed.
“We could easily have lost our heads being so dominant and not scoring but we didn’t”. Mark McCall’s men are on the verge of being regarded as one of the greatest English sides ever and, arguably, one of the best Europe has seen but skipper Brad Barritt, pictured, insists that the focus is homed in on enjoyment and appreciating the ride they are on rather than any grand thoughts about legacy. “We’re looking forward to a great night”.
“We know each other inside out, a lot of us since we were 14 15, and others have been here eight years or so”, said the flyhalf, whose memorable day was capped by being named European player of the year.
Defeat was another bitter pill for Clermont.
Clermont are the almost men of French rugby, having lost to Toulon in Europe’s top club tournament in the 2013 and 2015 finals, and won only one of their 12 French finals – and that at the 11th attempt.
Clermont coach Franck Azema agreed.
“We take energy from that and we like the fact that is the case – we are on our own out there and their fans are generally outweighing our own fans – it is something you get used to. We weren’t able to reverse the pressure”. “We just try to get a balance between enjoying each other’s company, enjoying being together, but also when the time comes to work, the players are outstanding at flicking the switch and this week has been no different”.