Saracens’ Champions Cup hopes look to be in tatters following an error-strewn 46-14 defeat to Clermont, their biggest ever European loss.
Defeat is the reigning European champions’ sixth in a row in all competitions, and while early losses in the Anglo-Welsh Cup could be brushed aside this was a worrying performance from a side packed with internationals.
Clermont had voiced their displeasure about the circumstances surrounding the rescheduling of this fixture, and they put in a committed, 80-minute showing inspired by hat trick hero Alivereti Raka.
Amid freezing conditions in north London Saracens were caught cold by visitors who looked determined to end a fractious 36 hours with a vital victory.
By contrast, the hosts looked every inch the side that had lost five matches in a row as missed tackles and mistakes contributed to their humbling demise.
Mako Vunipola’s early knock on, with the try line begging, set the tone for an insipid performance in which the hosts missed 37 tackles as Clermont dominated possession and territory.
Wesley Fofana had already breezed through the Saracens defence, being stopped inches from the try line when Damian Penaud — in for the injured Remi Lamerat — made a scything break.
Clermont kept the ball alive with ease and when the ball came to Raka, only one outcome was likely, and the big wing cantered over for his first of the game.
His second would arrive just eight minutes later, and again Saracens pushed the self-destruct button as Richard Wigglesworth missed touch allowing the French side to run the ball back with interest.
Yet, it would get worse. There were still 16 left in the first half when completed the second fastest hat trick in European Cup history.
Saracens were finding it impossible to contain the brilliant Fijian winger, but his most startling contribution would not arrive until the second half.
Picking up the ball in his own territory, Raka powered past six tacklers before holding off Alex Lozowski and offloading to Flip van der Merwe, who gleefully ran over from five metres.
It was a moment to light up any match and compounded the hosts misery after they had given themselves a glimmer of hope with a penalty try late in the first half.
That they weren’t able to capitalise fully on Fritz Lee’s 10 minutes in the sin bin, though, only served to highlight their shortcomings. Indeed the only points added in the time the Clermont No. 8 was off the pitch came from the boot of the impressive Morgan Parra.
Further tries from Fofana — who waltzed through yet more flimsy tackling — and Isaia Toeava, plus another Parra penalty would arrive before the end, while George Kruis’ try at least gave those home fans still braving the cold something to cheer.
But the damage had been done inside 25 first-half minutes.
Despite their earlier protestations Clermont and the talismanic Raka will skip merrily on to the return match next Sunday. Saracens, on the other hand, will limp into that contest on their worst run for 14 years.
Mark McCall’s men have less than six days to find some answers as they look for a solution to what is becoming a worrying malaise.