Saracens overcame Racing 92 on an emotional afternoon in Lyon to lift the European Champions Cup, denying France their first Champions and Challenge Cup double since 1997, as well as becoming the first English winner since 2007.
The prospect of running rugby on a late spring afternoon was doused by heavy rain, leaving both teams to focus on playing the weather more than each other. Saracens game plan played well in the conditions, and the pragmatic approach they often show served them well.
Maro Itoje was named man of the match for the Quarters, Semis and Final crowing not just a great run for him, but a great season. It’s worth noting that Itoje had not lost a game he had started throughout the entire season. It was the work rate of the Saracens team, Kruis and Itoje in particular, and their perfectly executed game plan that saw them crowned winners.
The first half of the game brought few moments of excitement, but as each team tried to scope the other out and play some rugby of their own, the weather meant that neither team could ever turn that play into meaningful possession, and the first half closed with the game still waiting to ignite. Brice Dulin continued to show the excellence of his kicking, but couldn’t match the quality of kicking from Saracens who perhaps dominated more than the 12 - 6 half time scoreline suggested.
The opening stages saw some unforced errors from Dan Carter who had been carrying a knee injury, and suspicions were raised when Johannes Goosen stepped up to take the teams penalties. These were confirmed early in the second half when he was replaced by Remi Tales. Not the way the three time World Player of the Year would have planned to see the game turn out. If this was as was suggested a battle of the tens, Carter lost it rather than Farrell winning.
The second half continued to highlight Saracens pressurising game plan, with Maro Itoje and Will Fraser disrupting the breakdown before Wigglesworth or Farrell pinned Racing back with their kicking. This pressure continued to turn into points if not possession, as Farrell kept the scoreboard ticking over.
As the game moved past the hour mark, things began to loosen up and the flowing rugby that Racing had tried in the wetter weather became more fluid. They upped the pace and the ball started sticking to hands and they began attacking the Saracens 22. At this stage of the match, with the score at 15 - 9, a try would have turned the game on its head, but Saracens held firm, and went on to finish the game 21 - 9.
Lyon saw rain, hail and sunshine before and throughout the game, and the wet pitch meant both teams struggled to keep possession of the ball for prolonged periods of the time, but as things continued to dry towards the end of the game, Racing’s game plan started to come to the fore, but by that point it was too late.
Saracens showed a very mature and clever performance, expertly executing their game plan throughout the game. The strangle hold that they managed to inflict forced Racing into errors, and once the ball was turned over or a penalty won, they pinned the opposition back into their 22. This dominance of territory and disruption of the breakdown allowed Owen Farrell to do what he does best, and keep the scoreboard ticking over.
Saracens came with a plan and executed it superbly. They talked about the lessons they had learnt through their varied previous competition finals, and it was clear those lessons were the key to getting over the finish line. Their pragmatic approach to the game allowed them to strangle the fixture and come out as winners. As a young side, who would bet against them being in the same position this time next year?