Burger with a performance to relish
Tom Hamilton at Twickenham
April 26, 2014
Jacques Burger put in a remarkable performance © Getty Images
It was a remarkable victory built on Saracens' defence with Jacques Burger putting in a performance for the ages. The superb Saracens openside made 27 tackles, turned over the ball at will and generally caused a sense of panic in Clermont's ranks. If ever there was an apt recipient for Man of the Match, it was Burger.
Saracens are now through to their first Heineken Cup final and after years of making noise off the pitch, they are chasing two trophies to add to their Aviva Premiership triumph back in 2011. For Saracens, the manner in which they made Clermont look ordinary is testament to the club as a whole. Off the field marketing, gimmicks can only go so far, you need the team to deliver and that it did at Twickenham on Saturday.
The talk leading up to the game surrounded the poor attendance expected at Twickenham and those fears were realised with just 25,942 coming to the game. The number of green, empty seats will do little to boost European domestic rugby's image and the apathy supporters showed the match is something the new tournament must address next season.
But those that did make the effort witnessed a unique performance; the eventual 40-point margin of victory was the highest at the semi-final stage in this fine tournament's history. Those in the stands saw a Saracens team play with a lethal cutting edge and no sense of awe as they faced Clermont, a team with a pedigree as one of Europe's premier sides.
Clermont's attack was blunt and lacked imagination. Despite their supporters' best efforts to raise their team with constant drum banging throughout, only Wesley Fofana offered a spark in the backline but they never got going.
This was due to Saracens' defence. Clermont simply had no answer to their ferocity at the breakdown and the bulldozing Burger. Saracens also had that key added ingredient, luck.
Referee Nigel Owens, widely regarded as the world's best official, will come in for scrutiny for his decision to award a first-half penalty try to Saracens after Brock James knocked the ball into touch in his own in-goal area while under pressure from Marcelo Bosch. It was a harsh decision as for all the world it looked like James was going for the ball with the intention of catching it rather than looking for the emergency option of knocking it straight over the dead-ball line. A penalty would have been a fairer outcome.
Owen Farrell's try, and Saracens' third, came after the ball bounced off his knee rather than his outstretched hand. On nine occasions out of 10, his hand would have brushed the ball and the try would have been chalked off, but not today.
Luck aside, Chris Ashton put down a marker ahead of England's summer tour with two tries. Both efforts needed him to be at the right place at the right time, but that is the sign of a good finisher. His double sees him become the first player to register 11 tries in a Heineken Cup season. He also did well in defence putting in a try-saving tackle on Vincent Debaty.
Elsewhere, Alex Goode performed well at fullback and rarely put a foot wrong while Bosch offered an assured presence in the midfield. The Saracens supporters have clearly taken to their Argentinean outside centre as when a long-distance penalty was awarded to their team, the immediate cry was "Bosch, Bosch, Bosch".
But it was Burger who collected the plaudits and rightly so. How his body is still going is a medical mystery; he has absolutely no regard for his own safety, and at times to be fair the opposition's, as he flies into rucks and players. The Clermont back-row is not an insignificant one with Julien Bonnaire one of Europe's premier blindsides and Fritz Lee enjoying a successful first season for Clermont, but it was an area of the field completely governed by Burger.
Alongside pre-match mention of empty seats was also talk of this match being an important occasion for two individuals - Saracens' skipper Steve Borthwick and Clermont's coach Vern Cotter, At the end of the season Borthwick retires while Cotter takes charge of Clermont but it will be the quietly-spoken busted-nose second-row who has a final shot at winning the tournament that has evaded him in the past.
Two years ago Saracens lost 22-3 to Clermont in the quarter-finals, Sarries boss Mark McCall said his team felt they never "threw a punch" back then. Today they threw everything at Clermont and it paid off handsomely. This was one of the finest performances by an English side in Europe and they will take some stopping in the final.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.
Communication error please reload the page.
England's Matt Ford will take a narrow lead into the third day of the Africa Open after carding a second-round 66 at East London Golf Club
Katarina Johnson-Thompson broke Jessica Ennis-Hill's British record, but fell agonisingly short of the world record as she claimed pentathlon gold at the European Indoor Championships in Prague on Friday
Tottenham midfielder Nabil Bentaleb is poised to sign a new long-term deal at White Hart Lane, sources have told ESPN
Jordan Henderson is not the new Steven Gerrard and any comparisons between them are unfair, according to manager Brendan Rodgers
Luis Suarez can expect a warm reception when he returns to Liverpool because he is still "adored" there, according to manager Brendan Rodgers
Where does Anthony Davidson's record of 24 Grands Prix without a point rank him?
ESPN talks to Marcus Ericsson about the "pay driver" label, aiming for his first career points and what life was really like as a rookie during Caterham's chaotic final season
Gareth Bale says he has to be sharp in training or the other Real Madrid galacticos will quickly be on his case
Amid the glitz and glamour of modern grand prix racing it can be all too easy to forget about the men and women that keep the wheels turning. The Grand Prix Trust makes sure that's not the case
A spitting contest. Just what football needs to improve its reputation. You can always rely on football to stoop that little bit lower than you expected. Papiss Cisse of Newcastle United and Jonny Evans of Manchester United, who later protested his innoce
Liverpool striker Mario Balotelli has claimed that "someone doesn't like [him]" in a cryptic social media post
Amir Khan is unlikely to face Kell Brook this summer as he looks to negotiate a fight with Miguel Cotto in America
Jose Mourinho has praised his Chelsea team's "warrior" spirit and challenged them to fill their pockets with trophies
Alexis Sanchez and Olivier Giroud have the "mental strength" to spearhead Arsenal's charge for Champions League qualification, according to Arsene Wenger
Luis Suarez is to return to Anfield to play in a charity match arranged by Liverpool
After Nemanja Matic twisted his ankle celebrating Chelsea's League Cup win, ESPN runs down some of the game's most ludicrous injuries
Eight years ago, Steve Bunce was offered the chance of buying a 'share' in Tyson Fury, and it would have been a shrewd investment if he had the money
Who was the 100th man to win a world championship Grand Prix?
Some of the best fighters to ever glove up have plied their trade in the Octagon - now ESPN list the 10 best who have fought under the UFC banner
Paul Butler tells Inside Boxing he turned down the chance of a trial with Liverpool in order to focus on boxing - and it was the right choice