Sunday 20 August 2017

Munster will need all their ammunition to out-gun Saracens' heavy artillery

'This afternoon, Munster will approach their 12th semi-final with few beyond these shores expecting anything other than a fifth semi-final in succession for their visitors to yield a victory for the Englishmen.' (Stock picture)
'This afternoon, Munster will approach their 12th semi-final with few beyond these shores expecting anything other than a fifth semi-final in succession for their visitors to yield a victory for the Englishmen.' (Stock picture)
David Kelly

David Kelly

Saracens arrive to the Aviva as champions seeking to achieve what their hosts once achieved: European immortality. Good teams win European titles once; great teams win more than once. "We don't think that way," says Sarries boss Mark McCall. "We just aim for consistency."

That approach once ensured Munster's status among the elite but their successes have receded into history.

It is nine years since they lifted the crown for the second time.

That year they defeated Saracens in an epic semi-final, spawning the losers' wounding introspection that eventually led them to Lyon last May to plant their own red black and flag upon club rugby's European Everest.

Meetings between these pair bookended Munster's own fairytale rise; the pair of momentous pool wins at the start of the century propelling a surge of public support down south which would follow their heroes through many lows, before the liberating highs.

Today they meet with the roles reversed. Saracens are seven years into their own European story; this Munster team, a new breed of emerging heroes, confess that they are only seven months down the road in theirs.

This afternoon, Munster will approach their 12th semi-final with few beyond these shores expecting anything other than a fifth semi-final in succession for their visitors to yield a victory for the Englishmen.

Saracens have a hardened edge in the tight five, a marauding, technically proficient yet ball-laying back-row, a supreme half-back combination, subtle and strong centres and proficient power, pace and precision out wide.

Former Ulster coach McCall reiterated yesterday that Sarries' success has been built with Leinster and Munster precedents in mind.

Assessing their strengths would perhaps prove too daunting for most teams. Then again, Munster are not just any team.

In spite of their typically modest effacement, they have strengthened their belief exponentially this season, unwittingly aided by the most tragic of circumstances that have bound them together even tighter than one could possibly imagine.

Their game-plan remains limited in its vision but stirringly focused in its application and delivery; the biggest test today may be the temptation, or the necessity, to push the margins should Saracens impose themselves from the off.

Three weeks ago here, Leinster unveiled a wide game of shock and awe that, allied to ferocious breakdown technique and unanswerable ferocity, blew their English rivals away to the extent that their response was both limited and belated.

Have Munster got such an approach in their armoury? They may not need it if they can commit to their tested plan with clinical accuracy and controlled aggression, which has served them so well during their impressive twin title tilt.

Their survivors from another epic coup against an English side in the Six Nations here - O'Mahony and Stander in the brutish back-row in particular - will also be minded by that memory, as will the contingent of cowed Englishmen in the Sarries ranks.

"I guess that's the challenge, to stay on task and things that worked for us, keep on doing them," notes coach Rassie Erasmus, while also acutely aware that imposing their own game will serve to denude theirs.

"We have to focus on them, if we don't stop the things they are doing well, we'll lose the game.

"One of the things they do well is the intensity they put on whatever you're trying to do, they match that with a lot of intensity.

"Apart from their tactical and individual brilliance, every game they've got higher intensity than the opposition. I wouldn't worry about our guys being overly motivated because you're going to need that to match Saracens."

The suspicion, with stubborn head ruling romantic heart, is that they may not have enough, Not yet.

Verdict: Saracens

Irish Independent

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