We didn't fire a shot - Munster coach Anthony Foley
IT IS not unusual to be flicking through the record books early in the second half of a game involving Munster, but checking to see when they suffered their biggest European defeat is a rare task.
But as the third quarter progressed, with Saracens 23-3 in front and hammering Munster in every department, a landslide defeat seemed almost inevitable.
The margin was kept down by some heroic defending, but by the end Munster were gone from Europe at the pool stages for only the second time in the past 16 years - and even fours ago when they failed to make the cut, they played in the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup.
It will be scant consolation to Munster that they deprived Saracens of a try bonus point yesterday, or that they died with their boots on in the second half as they made tackle after tackle in a bid to deal with the incessant onslaught from the home.
"It is one of those things that their character was questioned near the end," said coach Anthony Foley. "Saracens had three tries and the boys held out and made sure that they didn't get a bonus point off us.
"It is not ideal to be in that situation - it is not something that we had planned for. We came here to win the game and came here to put in a good performance. There is a lot of character in that team and there is a lot of good players and it is unfortunate today that we played like that."
Munster now only have the Pro12 to occupy them during Foley's first season in charge of the side, but he could have few complaints about yesterday's loss.
"It was very disappointing," he said. "We didn't turn up there at times. You look at where their scores came from - it probably started with a big error from us. It was disappointing that we didn't fire a shot, particularly early in the game, and in such an important game with a tournament on the line.
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"We were dropping passes, we were passing the ball to fresh air when fellas were clearly through a hole, and from those they got their momentum."
Munster will now go through the motions next Sunday in a meaningless final pool game against Sale Sharks at Thomond Park, but Foley said that he wanted them to go out on a high.
"Obviously with a result like that we don't get out of our group," he added. "We need to address a few things and make sure that we turn up next Sunday and put in a performance that is worthy of it."
Clermont Auvergne remain favourites to top the pool but Saracens travel to France next week determined to overtake them, or at least cement a place as one of the three best runners-up.
Saracens boss Mark McCall hailed a "phenomenal" performance by England number eight Billy Vunipola.
Vunipola, who looks set to replace broken leg victim Ben Morgan in England's starting line-up for the Six Nations opener against Wales in Cardiff on February 6, produced an inspired display.
"Billy was phenomenal today," Saracens rugby director McCall said.
"He was a force of nature in attack and defence, but I thought we had outstanding performances right through the group.
"Richard Wigglesworth was magnificent - he set the pace and tone of the match and Chris Ashton was outstanding - not (just) his two tries, which were good, but some of his kicking game early on allowed us to control things.
"There is a small sense of frustration that we didn't get the fourth try (and bonus point), but I thought it was a really good performance.
"We are in a position where we go to Clermont, and if we win the match, we win the pool. That is what our intention is going to be."
Wigglesworth added: "That was us out there. We had a great week's preparation, and everyone was excited to be out there. Munster are a massive momentum team, but I thought that we controlled that brilliantly. It was a great feeling."
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