Friday 15 December 2017

David Wallace: Will risk be rewarded by a big Munster display?

Rassie's boys can put injury worries aside and reach final

Conor Murray at training in the University of Limerick
Conor Murray at training in the University of Limerick

David Wallace

I'm sure there were mixed emotions in the Munster dressing-room after last weekend's victory over Ulster - a few injuries were added to the list, but crucially they got an inter-pro win ahead of their massive Champions Cup semi-final against Saracens.

When you look at the other three teams that will feature in the final four, they took a more conservative approach to their league fixtures. Even though Leinster, Saracens and Clermont were all chasing home semi-finals in their respective competitions.

But Munster went with a fuller deck and, as a result, higher risk. To see one of your perceived starters, Rory Scannell, damaging his ankle is disappointing. But it was important to start the big names to keep the confidence and momentum flowing.

Rassie Erasmus trusts his squad, and the guys that replace the injured players will do their job whenever they are called upon. Rory Scannell could yet be fit, but with two internationals like Francis Saili and Jaco Taute available at centre, it makes Saracens second-guess themselves.

It's important to keep winning and keep that habit. The manner which they won against Ulster was a bit like the week before, not playing their best rugby, but Munster still find a win and that's very important.

When you look at it, it's worse to fall with a perceived weaker line-up and what that can do to the psyche of the team. The other side of it too, is playing week in, week out together, and that cohesiveness can help.

Simon Zebo at training in the University of Limerick
Simon Zebo at training in the University of Limerick

Most of the Munster team are internationals that only came back in a couple of weeks ago. They didn't have a lot time playing together before this. So it's great to be playing alongside one another and winning together again. Hopefully that will pay dividends in the end.

The intensity of those derby games are massive. They are brilliant for building up for the Champions Cup. Especially for a semi-final which is a massive step up from a quarter-final.

When you look at the four teams left in the competition, they are the best four teams in Europe. But Saracens have been in league and European semi-finals constantly in recent years, and they are defending champions in both competitions.


They know how to win and they won't fear going to the Aviva. Everything will have to be upped a notch by Munster, because the teams are so similar. Saracens are a very defence-orientated team at times, but they also have the likes of Chris Ashton and Owen Farrell, who are really able to create opportunities from nothing.

From that point of view, Munster are going to have to be so good at holding on and maintaining possession. They have to be really clever with their kicking game.

With Rory Scannell and Conor Murray potentially out, they will be really missed from that perspective. That heaps a lot more pressure on Tyler Bleyendaal and his control of the kicking game. But evidence shows he can definitely steer the ship.

It's very hard to see any weakness in this Saracens team. But you go back and see a few years ago when Munster beat them in Thomond Park, and maybe that experience is something that this Munster team can draw from.

When you are playing a team that are so good, you just need to force them into errors because they are normally more used to having an armchair ride. In the back of his mind, Owen Farrell might have some memories of that game in Thomond Park. He didn't have the best day, and if Munster can make him second-guess himself perhaps they can make him have a repeat performance.

A lot of what Saracens create out wide goes through him. If Munster can get the likes of CJ Stander running down the ten channel from early on, it can be a bit unnerving. Then you could sow a seed of doubt in Farrell's head.

But Saracens have been so consistent in the last few years because they don't have any outstanding weakness. They have their purple patches too, invariably instigated by Billy Vunipola, and it's about keeping shape and not making errors when Saracens attack. You need to be tough to play against them, because out wide Saracens will punish you if they get a sniff.

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