Owen Farrell kicked seven penalties as Saracens beat Racing 21-9 in Lyon to claim their maiden European Champions Cup title. JON CARDINELLI reports.
Saracens are the deserved winners of the 2015-16 Champions Cup. The English club won every game in the lead-up to the decider in Lyon. In the championship match, Saracens showed the necessary physicality and mettle to overcome the opposition and the conditions.
The Saracens forwards should take a collective bow following a powerful showing at the scrums and breakdowns. England lock Maro Itoje was in especially brutal form at the collisions, while Will Fraser troubled Racing at the rucks.
That said, Farrell, the Saracens flyhalf, will receive the majority of the plaudits, and rightly so. His opposite number, the All Blacks legend Dan Carter, did not make an impression with the boot or with ball in hand.
Farrell produced a flawless goal-kicking performance and controlled the game superbly. Some felt that Farrell would be overshadowed by his more decorated opposite number in this final, or that the memory of his failure in the 2013-14 Champions Cup decider would play on the England flyhalf's mind. In the end, Farrell showed remarkable temperament in wet conditions and made every opportunity count.
By contrast, Carter looked uncomfortable from the outset. The Racing pivot disappointed with a couple of wayward passes and knock-ons in the first half. Due to an injury sustained in the semi-final, Carter did not kick for goal. That responsibility fell to Maxime Machenaud and then Johan Goosen.
Goosen kicked a monster of a penalty from inside his own half in the 18th minute. The South African had a second chance right before half-time, and did not disappoint.
Saracens always looked the stronger side in contact and at the set pieces and went to half-time with the momentum as well as a 12-6 lead. When Racing started the second stanza without Carter, who had retired because of that existing injury, it seemed the English side were destined to lift the trophy.
Farrell kicked a further penalty to extend Saracens' lead to nine points. Racing, cheered on by the hordes of French fans crammed into the Grande Stade de Lyon, responded first through their forward pack, and then through the boot of Goosen. As the game moved into the fourth quarter, only six points separated the two teams.
Racing controlled possession for a long spell thereafter, but failed to put a dent into the determined Saracens defence. When the English side forced a turnover at the breakdown and subsequently cleared their lines, the heads of the Racing players began to drop.
Farrell kicked his sixth penalty goal of the evening in the 76th minute, and then his seventh in the 79th. The latter score put the result, and Saracens' status as European champions, beyond doubt.
The title triumph is a big result for first-time winners Saracens, and for English rugby as a whole. After nine long years, an English club has finally won the biggest title in European club rugby. It may also be significant that Saracens' victory has come just two months after England captured the Six Nations title.
Racing 92 – Penalties: Johan Goosen (3).
Saracens – Penalties: Owen Farrell (7).
Racing 92 – 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Joe Rokocoko, 13 Johan Goosen, 12 Alexandre Dumoulin, 11 Juan Imhoff, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Chris Masoe, 7 Bernard le Roux, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Francois van der Merwe, 4 Luke Charteris, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Dimitri Szarzewski (c), 1 Eddy Ben Arous.
Subs: 16 Virgile Lacombe, 17 Khatchik Vartanov, 18 Luc Ducalcon, 19 Manuel Carizza, 20 Antonie Claassen, 21 Mike Phillips, 22 Rémi Talès, 23 Henry Chavancy.
Saracens – 15 Alex Goode, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Duncan Taylor, 12 Brad Barritt (c), 11 Chris Wyles, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Will Fraser, 6 Michael Rhodes, 5 George Kruis, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Petrus du Plessis, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Subs: 16 Jamie George, 17 Richard Barrington, 18 Juan Figallo, 19 Jim Hamilton, 20 Jackson Wray, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Charlie Hodgson, 23 Marcelo Bosch.
Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images