Murray Kinsella reports from the Aviva Stadium
SARACENS BOSS MARK McCall says his side were prepared for Conor Murray not being named in Munster’s side for tomorrow’s Champions Cup semi-final [KO 3.15pm, BT Sport], with Duncan Williams now set to start against the Premiership side.
Earlier this week, McCall had said Saracens expected Murray to play and it’s understood that his absence is indeed a surprise to the reigning European champions, who believed Munster were overplaying their uncertainty around the Ireland scrum-half.
However, speaking after their captain’s run this at the Aviva Stadium this afternoon, McCall said Saracens were prepped to face Williams.
“Not really,” said McCall when asked if the news changed anything for Sarries. “Our preparation was for either scenario. The thing about Duncan is that he’s phenomenally experienced.
“People think he’s not, but he is. He’s 31, 32, years old [Williams turned 31 four days ago], got a hundred and something caps for Munster. He had a really strong game against Toulouse and he’s actually got a very strong kicking game.”
Given that Munster are not carrying a recognised scrum-half on the bench, Williams can expect an even greater physical barrage than might have been the case from Saracens.
Williams has been in fine form for Munster this season, providing some confidence for Munster fans, and his work rate has been exceptional in attack and defence.
When outlining Munster’s main strengths, it was this work rate that McCall underlined.
“Everything really,” said McCall. “Their lineout is exceptional, lineout maul is a big strength, their kicking game’s good, their kick chase is good, their defence.
“I think the exceptional thing is how hard they work. Of all the teams we’ve analysed this year, I don’t think there’s a team who work as hard and fight for each other the way they do, which is why they come out the right end of a lot of results this year.”
McCall said that Saracens are mentally prepared for the onslaught that awaits them in terms of the “tremendous” Munster support too, with home fans set to make up the vast majority of a sold-out crowd at the Aviva.
But Saracens have won away in knock-out European games before and they will draw on some of that history as they head into tomorrow’s game.
“I think it’s part of the culture of the team,” said captain Brad Barritt. “Our mentality is that we don’t pick and choose. That extends to whether we are playing a ‘lower’ (ranked) team away or we are playing a ‘big’ team away.
“We prepare the same for every team, we give them the same respect. I think it probably stemmed back from our early days at Vicarage Road when, to be honest, we didn’t have much of an atmosphere or crowd to support us, so we always thrive on going into these big occasions in front of hostile crowds and savouring the moment.
“Tomorrow is going to be one I’m sure we will remember for a long time.”
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