CLERMONT-FERRAND: David Strettle has insisted Clermont head into their European Champions Cup final against his former side Saracens at Murrayfield on Saturday confident of dethroning the continent’s “number one” club.
Saracens, both the reigning English and European champions, will be looking to complete the first half of a ‘double Double’.
But ex-England wing Strettle, who left the London club for Clermont two years ago, said the French side could upset the odds in Edinburgh.
“They are for me the number one team in Europe,” Strettle told AFP in an interview.
“Saracens don’t have a bad day, they are consistently good.”
But Strettle, who scored a superb try in Clermont’s 27-22 semi-final win over Irish giants Leinster, added: “However, Clermont’s good days are better than Saracens’ good days so if we are playing well, we can win.”
Clermont though must overcome their reputation as ‘nearly men’ if they are to triumph at Murrayfield.
The club have won just one of their 12 finals in France’s domestic Top 14 (in 2010) and their two previous European Cup final appearances saw them beaten by French rivals Toulon in 2013 and 2015.
Two second-tier European Challenge Cup wins have done little to ease the disappointment of their loyal ‘Yellow Army’ of supporters.
“It doesn’t affect me if Clermont have won or lost eleven, twelve finals,” said the 33-year-old Strettle.
“That shouldn’t affect me, I am playing just the one game, in my head it is the same. The players just have to ignore the history, it’s just one game. For the fans, it’s different.”
Not that he was under-estimating the task ahead of Clermont.
“Saracens’ key players are all very young. You have Billy Vunipola, Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje, Alex Goode, George Kruis, Jamie George.
“They are now playing for England, for the British and Irish Lions. They now have that big-game experience, so the team has evolved.”
By moving to France, Strettle effectively ended his international career, given England’s refusal to pick overseas-based players save in “exceptional circumstances.”
Strettle had no regrets, given that when he moved it was two years since he’d won the last of his 14 England caps.
“In the two years before I left Saracens, I was playing very well but not being picked (by England) – I was always on the verge.
“So I just thought I am probably not going to get picked so I won’t let that change my decision.”
By joining Clermont, Strettle was following a path trodden by fellow English flyer Nick Abendanon, who made the same move a year earlier.
“I rang Nick and then I came to Clermont to have a look around,” he explained.
“It was good to speak to Nick and I felt a lot more confident with my decision.”
But it was not just his own life Strettle was changing by joining Clermont.
“My fiancée, she had a very good job working in insurance in London. But Phoebe’s father speaks fluent French. Phoebe has always been around French culture, so she was very interested to come over as well and she likes it.”
Had he stayed, Strettle could have enjoyed a brilliantly successful career with Saracens.
But he insisted medals were not everything.
“Having played in the Premiership for over 10 years, I had the opportunity of a new experience, playing for one of the biggest teams in Europe, in a country where rugby is like football in England – it is the main passion.
“I did not just move because of rugby, I wanted a different life experience...When I look back on my career, I will not judge it just on trophies.”--AFP