Saturday 17 March 2018

We tried hard but the pressure got to us, admits Erasmus

Rassie Erasmus: Sportsfile
Rassie Erasmus: Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Munster may have had the final, defiant word but ultimately Saracens authored the script as their attempt to defend their Champions Cup crown surpassed its penultimate, and toughest hurdle.

The doubts that had persisted beforehand, and Munster's inexperience with this panel at this level were comprehensively confirmed by a Saracens side whose vast recent experience in this competition negotiated them safe passage to dry land despite the 'red wave' of exiled Munster support in Dublin 4.

"They are the complete outfit," admitted an admiring Munster coach Rassie Erasmus, who was given little evidence to alter the opinion he had given before the game.

"I don't think we were great, we tried hard but the pressure got to us. At 6-3 we were in it and we had opportunities which if we take them they give us belief. But they strangled the life out of us and Saracens grew from that. After half time we were trying to chase the game, we had maul opportunities but we couldn't get it right, they got two penalties and then that try. We weren't tactically smart and we made a substitution when we were already losing a player."

It may have been the end of this journey after such a fraught season - though they remain semi-finalists in the Guinness PRO12 - but it promises to be the start of a renewed bid to return to their European glory days. "The harsh reality is that we are this many points away from Saracens. We have hope, we are third or fourth in Europe and there are 16 teams below us. We have a way to go to get to Saracens' level but we have another year to get closer."

Saracens will have an Irish influence in the final, as former Ulster captain Mark McCall from their 1999 European-winning campaign will lead them there after what he termed an "extraordinary defensive performance".

"It was a brilliant performance in all the ways we like it to be. Our defence was extraordinary, we had three or four minutes before Mako Vunipola's try. It was as good a defensive performance as we have had.

"We had to stay patient, we had a chance we butchered and two other good chances. We just had to patient and we remained persistent. They kicked the ball a lot. They put us under some pressure aerially, we knew they are good in our 22 and they were there more often than we wanted them to be. We had chances to score but it was a wonderful, fighting performance from our team. We're a team still on the up, the age profile is up. Whether we win or lose in the final will not define us. We want to keep fighting."

Billy Vunipola dominated on a pitch where he made a subdued impact as a replacement when England ceded their Grand Slam; after that defeat, he craved chocolate. His hunger has advanced now.

"I've been saving myself for a Burger King or a Nandos," he said. "I'm hungry and thirsty. We all want to do so well. It's a great way to finish off a big week."

Sunday Indo Sport

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