Saturday 25 May 2019

Halting 'world-class' Farrell a Munster priority

Owen Farrell warms up during a Saracens training session. Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images
Owen Farrell warms up during a Saracens training session. Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

That this season's Champions Cup top-scorers extended their record by putting another 56 points on Glasgow without their chief orchestrator will serve as another reminder of the Saracens threat.

Owen Farrell missed the thumping quarter-final win due to the birth of his first child and now back in the fold, he is bidding to recapture the kind of form that saw him tear Ireland asunder with his clever kicking game in England's Six Nations win over Ireland.

Alex Goode did a very good job filling the void against Glasgow, but Farrell is the heartbeat of this formidable Sarries outfit as he is the brains behind their attacking game-plan as well the one who sets the tone in defence with his aggressive line-speed and thumping hits.

The 27-year-old's tackle technique has, however, been the focus of much attention in recent months and from that end, Munster will no doubt be having a quiet word in referee Jerome Garces' ear before kick-off.

Scotland also proved that Farrell can be got at. With the talismanic out-half losing his grip in the Six Nations finale, Scotland pounced on it and clawed their way back from the depths to snatch what had looked like an unlikely draw.

Scotland's back-rowers were very effective that afternoon at Twickenham, which Munster can learn from.

Peter O'Mahony is in the form of his career and with Tadhg Beirne in tow, Munster have just the right players to get in Farrell's face and make life difficult for him.

Keith Earls, in particular, will not need to be reminded of his threat as Farrell repeatedly targeted the winger and at times exposed the space in Ireland's back-field.

Earls and Andrew Conway are excellent readers of the game, while Mike Haley knows exactly what to expect having come up against him regularly during his time with Sale.

"The Glasgow game, even without Owen (Farrell), he's going to come back in and make a savage impact," captain O'Mahony warned earlier this week.

"He's world-class, (there is) a huge amount of their team is world-class.

"I think we understand that it's going to have to be the best game of the year.

"It always is at this time of our year, particularly against a team with the quality that these guys have - 80, 85 minutes of 23 of us playing the best rugby we possibly can."

So much has happened since Leinster dumped Sarries out at the quarter-final stage last season that it is easy to forget Farrell went into the game as a major doubt having been struggling with a quad injury.

Saracens never really got going that day at the Aviva and with Farrell not as his best, it was no coincidence that neither were his team.

Mark McCall's side may not be everyone's cup of tea, particularly at a time when off-field matters are dominating the agenda.

But on the pitch, Farrell epitomises everything good about Saracens and their relentless desire to win by utterly dominating the opposition.

Simply put, with Farrell pulling the strings, Sarries are a different beast, which is ominous as they look to win back their European crown.

"I think probably at the heart of everything is the continuity that we've had in the last 10 years," McCall maintained.

"I think that's something that Saracens lacked in the first 10 years of professional rugby.

"There's a lot of people who came and went, whether on the staff or in the playing group, and over the last 10 years it's been the opposite of that.

"A lot of the staff, a lot of the coaching staff and the performance staff have been here the whole time.

"The playing group have grown up together more or less with the odd person added here and there.

"That cohesion that we have in the group is really important. Cohesion is only good if the people you've got are hungry."

Farrell certainly has that insatiable desire to succeed and while it is too simplistic to say that if Munster stop him, they will stop Saracens - if they manage to do so, they will take a big step towards their first European final in 11 years.

Irish Independent

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