Saturday 21 September 2019

David Wallace: 'Munster will need to change their game-plan if they are to smother slick Saracens'

Peter O'Mahony
Peter O'Mahony

David Wallace

Since their loss to Racing 92 in last year's Champions Cup semi-final, the Munster players will have been counting down the 363 days until their next shot at reaching a European final. After a lot of hard work their chance arrives again tomorrow, but if anything the challenge is even greater this year against Saracens.

We need to see Munster's most efficient performance of the year if they're to end an 11-year wait to get back into the final.

Two years ago Saracens deconstructed Munster and I think they could be an even better team now. Crucially, I think Munster have progressed too and we will see a tight battle.

Doubt

I will be keen to see what the Ricoh Arena is like come kick-off tomorrow but no doubt the Munster supporters will travel in big numbers again.

I remember when we were preparing to face them in 2000, we were doing a preview of Saracens and Declan Kidney went around distracting everyone, squirting water at people, driving a remote-controlled car around the team room and just doing crazy things.

But at the end of the review he went around asking questions on what we'd watched, the point being you had to avoid the distractions.

I've always had an affiliation with Saracens through my brothers, Richard and Paul, who played with them. The 35-34 win we earned over there in 2000 was very special considering I started at No 8 and Paul came on for the last 15 minutes for Sarries, and from a Munster point of view it was brilliant to be involved in one of the historic, come-from-behind wins for the province.

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I'm not sure if we'll see a similar open game from the teams tomorrow but I suspect Munster could be baking a different game-plan for this one.

The memory of two years ago in the Aviva is still fresh in the players' minds. They were confident going in to that game but in the end it was like running into a brick wall over and over again.

If Munster are to be successful here they are going to have to come with something different, and I suspect it will involve an offloading game merged with some of the tight work they do so well closer to the tryline.

The change of game-plan worked very well in a quarter-final against Harlequins a few seasons ago and there were signs of an offloading game against Benetton last week.

Munster cannot be predictable. They have to run in to space, get their hands free and try and break down Saracens that way. Breaching the gain-line will be crucial.

The breakdown and tackle area are aspects of the game that Saracens always seek to play on their own terms.

They end up with quick ball and as a result it'll be a big day for Tadhg Beirne, Peter O'Mahony and Jack O'Donoghue. It'll be their job to target the ball.

Any advantage Munster can gain in that sector would be huge and would allow them to number off correctly and maintain their width in defence.

Saracens are masters at exploiting space out wide with their slick passing.

Urgency at the breakdown is vital but the work there has to be efficient too, with one eye on the referee. If you're in on the ball it's imperative you make a fight of the breakdown.

Having Owen Farrell back is massive for Sarries. They had no trouble without him against Glasgow in the quarters, but he is probably the best out-half in Europe at the moment.

If Munster are not organised at the back he will keep them turned with his kicking game. His passing game is excellent too and he keeps that backline ticking.

Disrupted

In the build-up to this game much of the debate has surrounded Billy Vunipola and you'd wonder how much that has disrupted his and Saracens' preparation.

You'd imagine the whole thing has been hard to cope with but after being booed last week by the Bristol fans it will surely be heightened. He has been warned and Mark McCall insisted he will be available, so we'll soon see how he copes.

Injury means we're very unlikely to see Joey Carbery in this one and Keith Earls is a bit of a worry too, but hopefully he has been able to train all week. Jean Kleyn too, he'll be a vital cog this weekend against such a powerful Saracens pack.

This is a real test of Munster - Saracens are a top side.

To win Munster will have to be at their best, nothing short of that will suffice.

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