European Champions Cup: Clermont Auvergne 18-6 Saracens

By James StandleyBBC Sport
Nick Abendanon dives over to score Clermont's first try in their win over Saracens
Nick Abendanon's sharp finish was the highlight of the match in France's Massif Central
Clermont Auvergne (10) 18
Tries: Abendanon, Debaty Con: Lopez Pen: Lopez, James
Saracens (3) 6
Pens: Hodgson 2

Saracens squeezed into the European Champions Cup knockout stages despite losing their final Pool One game away to group winners Clermont Auvergne.

Camille Lopez kicked Clermont into an early lead and, after Owen Farrell had gone off injured, the hosts scored their first try though Nick Abendanon, with Lopez adding the extras.

Two Charlie Hodgson penalties cut the lead to 10-6 soon after the break.

But a Vincent Debaty try and Brock James penalty handed Clermont victory.

Champions Cup quarter-finals (3/4/5 April)
Racing Metro v Saracens
Toulon v Wasps
Clermont Auvergne v Northampton
Leinster v Bath

If Saracens had been beaten by 35 points they would have lost out on a quarter-final spot to Toulouse, but they kept the margin of defeat well below that to join Bath, Northampton and Wasps in the last eight.

It is the first time four English clubs have reached the quarter-finals of Europe's premier club competition since the 1997-98 season, although all four sides face away ties, with Saracens returning to France to take on Parisian aristocrats Racing Metro.

After the thrilling Champions Cup matches earlier in the day this was a less dramatic affair, with long spells dominated by the teams kicking for position.

Saracens rarely managed to get on the front foot as Clermont's power game gave the hosts control and, after their semi-final humiliation by Sarries last season, they will be delighted to have gained a measure of revenge in winning the pool ahead of the Londoners.

Semi-final draw (to be played 17/18/19 April)
Toulon/Wasps v Leinster/Bath
Clermont Auvergne/Northampton v Racing Metro/Saracens

Former Bath player Abendanon's try was the game's stand-out moment, the full-back attacking a gap around the fringes of a ruck and going over by the sticks from Morgan Parra's pass.

Lopez's conversion and a penalty put the hosts 10-0 ahead, and although Hodgson, who came on early for England fly-half Farrell - the extent of whose injury is not yet known - cut the gap to four points early in the second half, Saracens never looked like winning.

The longer the game wore on the more dominant Clermont were and Belgium-born France prop Debaty drilled over from all of a yard after David Strettle had been yellow carded.

Replacement home fly-half James concluded the scoring in a low-key encounter in which the undoubted star - notwithstanding the efforts of the lively Abendanon - was the noisy home crowd, which created a superb atmosphere to compensate for some of the game's shortcomings.

Clermont Auvergne: Abendanon; Nakaitaci, Davies, Fofana, Nalaga; Lopez, Parra; Domingo, Kayser, Zirakashvili, Pierre, Vahaamahina, Chouly, Bardy, Lee.

Replacements: Guildford for Nakaitaci (77), James for Lopez (61), Radosavljevic for Parra (77), Debaty for Domingo (50), Ulugia for Kayser (69), Ric for Zirakashvili (61), Jacquet for Pierre (69), Bonnaire for Bardy (53).

Sin Bin: Vahaamahina (41), Lee (78).

Saracens: Goode; Ashton, Wyles, Barritt, Strettle; Farrell, Wigglesworth; M Vunipola, George, Du Plessis, Hamilton, Hargreaves, Brown, Burger, B Vunipola.

Replacements: Streather for Barritt (78), Hodgson for Farrell (18), De Kock for Wigglesworth (54), Barrington for M Vunipola (77), Sharman for George (77), Johnston for Du Plessis (54), Itoje for Hamilton (77), Joubert for Brown (58).

Sin Bin: Strettle (50).

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