James boots out Sarries
Byrne bags only try of the game as French club reach last four
By Rob Lancaster - Twitter: @SkySportsLanny. Last Updated: 09/04/12 7:24am
Clermont Auvergne triumphed 22-3 over Saracens to boot England's last representatives out of the Heineken Cup and keep French hopes alive.
Brock James came off the bench to kick 17 points, including the conversion following Lee Byrne's try, as the Top 14 big-spenders reached the semi-finals of Europe's premier club competition for the first time in their history.
Standing in their way of a place at Twickenham will be reigning champions Leinster, the same opponents who knocked them out in 2010.
All Sarries could muster at Vicarage Road was a penalty from Owen Farrell, meaning they will now have to focus their attentions for the rest of the season on defending their Aviva Premiership crown.
They were simply kicked into submission by James, a man who had every reason to impress after his horror show against Leinster two years ago during his side's painful 29-28 exit at the same stage of the competition.
Exactly 24 months on from missing three drop goals, four penalties and a conversion at the RDS, the Australian was the hero as his trusty right peg continuously put points on the scoreboard.
Had it not been for an early injury to David Skrela, James may not have even had the chance to exorcise his demons; he started amongst the replacements but found himself thrust into the action after a mere three minutes.
Thankfully for his employers, he did not need long to warm up. Penalties in the seventh, ninth - awarded after Charlie Hodgson's high shot on Morgan Parra - and 13th minute quickly put Clermont 9-0 ahead.
Farrell cut the gap to six with a penalty of his own, but Sarries were struggling to make an impression with ball in hand. Brad Barritt bashed away and the ever-willing Alex Goode did his best to sparkle, but a side that only scored 13 tries in the Pool stages looked devoid of ideas with ball in hand.
Clermont, in contrast, had the class required to carve out an opportunity to score a pivotal try that put them out of sight three minutes into the second half.
Nathan Hines and Aurelien Rougerie produced superb offloads to set Parra free and the scrum-half in turn passed the ball on to the supporting Byrne, who simply had to dive over on the right.
James kicked the conversion and then, as if to show his mental scars were now completely healed, popped over a drop goal that made it 19-3.
His fourth penalty of the afternoon finally cracked Saracens on Easter Sunday and despite the hosts throwing the kitchen sink at their rivals in the closing stages, they still couldn't find a way through.
Only a last-ditch tackle by Parra stopped David Strettle from scoring and Clermont refused to have their line breached when repelling phase after phase of attack as the clock ticked down.
Their reward for executing a perfect gameplan is the chance to have another crack at Leinster, this time in Bordeaux on April 29. If the current holders are to become just the second side in the competition's history to retain the trophy, they will have to do it the hard way on the road.