David Strettle admitted to feeling extra satisfaction after inspiring Clermont to a dramatic 27-22 victory over Stuart Lancaster’s Leinster, but also conceded that a Champions Cup final against his former club Saracens will make for a “very strange” afternoon.
Strettle chipped over Isa Nacewa to set up Peceli Yato’s opening try after just four minutes and sashayed over to score himself later in a dominant first quarter for the Top 14 outfit that brought a 15-0 lead at a raucous Stade de Gerland. The 33-year-old winger was also busy in defence, forcing a turnover with a desperate tackle on Joey Carbery in a fine all-round display.
Strettle won the last of his 14 caps in Argentina four years ago and was overlooked by Lancaster, despite prolific domestic form for Saracens, until being named in the wider training squad for the 2015 World Cup.
Strettle withdrew to focus on settling in at Clermont and, while progressing to a European decider at Murrayfield brought enough delight, he also enjoyed the feat of proving his worth to Leinster’s senior coach.
“Stuart didn’t speak to me much when I knew him so I don’t think he’ll speak to me much now,” Strettle said. “In any career, when someone doesn’t respect you it’s nice to go out and show them what you can do.
“I respect Stuart in a professional capacity but when he didn’t pick me it was tough to take. I’m not the only player he didn’t pick, but hopefully Stuart will watch that game and think: ‘You know what, he’s a better player than I thought he was.’”
Strettle also revealed that he received an unexpected phone call from England coach Eddie Jones prior to this year’s Six Nations, with Jones explaining the much-debated ‘exceptional circumstances’ clause, with regard to England picking foreign-based players.
“I’ve never met Eddie in person but he called me and said: ‘I think your performances warrant a phone call. The way I interpret the international ruling is the player has to be head and shoulders above’.
“He was honest. He said my performances weren’t head and shoulders above but that I was playing very well. I respected that. It was quite ironic that somebody who didn’t have to contact me, contacted me, when the regime I was under never bothered. That’s the sad fact.”
Strettle also commended Jones for incorporating Steve Borthwick and Paul Gustard into his coaching team and now has his own rendezvous with former club Saracens, who overcame Munster 26-10 in Dublin on Saturday.
“I loved my time at Saracens,” Strettle said. “Saracens are the best team I could lose to because I’ve got a bunch of unbelievable mates there. To play against my best mates in a final will be very strange.”
Perennial bridesmaids Clermont are yet to win a European title, and Strettle admitted that a stirring second-half comeback from Leinster caused serious worry before two Camille Lopez drop-goals brought them home.
But, just as champions Saracens suffered a final defeat in 2014 before a maiden triumph over Racing 92 last May, Strettle said that Clermont have the ability to get past their own psychological block and clinch that first win.
“Saracens will definitely be favourites,” he admitted.
“Clermont have got this monkey on their back, so until the day that’s gone the favourites will be the defending champions. But, if we’re at the top of our game, we can beat them.”
Scoring sequence:5-0 Yato try; 7-0 Parra conversion; 10-0 Parra penalty; 15-0 Strettle try; 15-3 Sexton penalty; 15-6 Sexton penalty; 15-9 Sexton penalty; 15-12 Sexton penalty; 18-12 Parra pen; 21-12 Lopez drop-goal; 21-17 Ringrose try; 21-19 Sexton con; 24-19 Lopez pen; 27-19 Lopez drop-goal; 27-22 Sexton penalty.
ASM Clermont Auvergne: Scott Spedding; David Strettle, Aurélien Rougerie (Penaud 57), Remi Lamerat (Fernandez on 65), Nick Abendanon; Camille Lopez, Morgan Parra (Radosavljevic on 70); Raphael Chaume (Falgoux on 65), Benjamin Kayser (Ulugia 54), Davit Zirakashvili (Jarvis on 65), Arthur Iturria, Sébastien Vahaamahina (Jedrasiak on 70), Damien Chouly (c), Peceli Yato (Lapandry 53), Fritz Lee.
Replacements: John Ulugia, Etienne Falgoux, Aaron Jarvis, Paul Jedrasiak, Alexandre Lapandry, Ludovic Radosavljevic, Patricio Fernandez, Damien Penaud.
Leinster Rugby: Joey Carbery; Fergus McFadden (Kirchner on 72), Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, Isa Nacewa (c); Johnny Sexton, Luke McGrath (Gibson-Park on 65); Jack McGrath (Dooley on 61), Richardt Strauss (Cronin 49), Tadhg Furlong (Bent on 72), Devin Toner, Hayden Triggs (Molony on 61), Rhys Ruddock, Dan Leavy (van der Flier on 65), Jack Conan.
Replacements: Sean Cronin, Peter Dooley, Michael Bent, Ross Molony, Josh van der Flier, Jamison Gibson-Park, Ross Byrne, Zane Kirchner.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales).