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Dublin: 12 °C Sunday 19 May, 2019
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The sun is out, ice-cream stocks will run low, but the rise in temperature across Britain and Ireland this weekend pales in comparison to the heightened stakes as rugby’s top club competition enters the final four.

Munster are in Coventry this afternoon to meet fellow two-time European champions Saracens (kick-off 3pm, BT Sport), but the southern province will be acutely aware that Saracens’ success has come during a period in which Munster have been unable to battle beyond the semi-final stage.

Since being crowned champions of Europe in 2008, Munster have been to the final four six times, and six times they have tasted gut-wrenching defeat. 

Is today the day they complete the journey back to the final?

As if the English champions were not a big enough hurdle to get across, Munster will have to set about their business today without Keith Earls – try-scoring hero of the quarter-final – and Joey Carbery.

Here are the full line-ups.

Saracens:

15. Alex Goode
14. Sean Maitland
13. Alex Lozowski
12. Brad Barritt (captain)
11. Liam Williams
10. Owen Farrell
9. Ben Spencer

1. Mako Vunipola
2. Jamie George
3. Titi Lamositele
4. Maro Itoje
5. George Kruis
6. Mike Rhodes
7. Jackson Wray
8. Billy Vunipola

Replacements:

16. Joe Gray
17. Richard Barrington
18. Vincent Koch
19. Will Skelton
20. Schalk Burger
21. Richard Wigglesworth
22. Nick Tompkins
23. David Strettle

Munster:

15. Mike Haley
14. Andrew Conway
13. Chris Farrell
12. Rory Scannell
11. Darren Sweetnam
10. Tyler Bleyendaal
9. Conor Murray

1. Dave Kilcoyne
2. Niall Scannell
3. John Ryan
4. Jean Kleyn
5. Tadhg Beirne
6. Peter O’Mahony (captain)
7. Jack O’Donoghue
8. CJ Stander

Replacements:

16. Rhys Marshall
17. Jeremy Loughman
18. Stephen Archer
19. Billy Holland
20. Arno Botha
21. Alby Mathewson
22. JJ Hanrahan
23. Dan Goggin

Referee: Jerome Garces [FFR].

Personally speaking, the last I seen of the Ricoh Arena was a freezing January day last year when Ulster went to Wasps in the last days of the Les Kiss reign. It was a horribly slushy, snowy and dark day in the Midlands.

All change now.

Peter O’Dwyer and James Sweeney Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Fans before the game Source: James Crombie/INPHO

A general view of the Heineken Champions Cup Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Kick-off is fast approaching at the Ricoh and Munster undoubtedly have the majority of a sparse crowd in their favour. Hopefully, the fabled red army can make all the difference.

The swathes of blue seats are very disappointing, it must be said.

3Mins

KICK-OFF:

Saracens make their pressure tell early and Peter O’Mahony is penalised.

Owen Farrell makes no mistake from the resulting penalty.

PENALTY: Saracens 3 Munster 0 (Farrell ’3)

6Mins

Saracens owning the ball and territory five minutes in, leaving Munster’s defence to set out an early stall.

Saracens work their way into position for Farrell to attempts a drop, but he hits it very poorly.

8Mins

Munster showing some interesting line-out shapes to keep Sarries on their toes. Andrew Conway was in among the pack last time, with Chris Farrell at 9. After the throw went from Scannell to Scannell, the big 13 popped up short side to carry and offload.

From that platform Munster attack in the 22 and eke a penalty out of Mako Vunipola.

Tyler will have a pop.

12Mins

Not sure what the exact breakdown of support is, but it sounds as though ‘hosts’ Saracens fans are being outnumbered almost 2:1 by Munster voices.

Billy Vunipola’s carries are being greeted by boos, though he continues to win yardage. 

13Mins

Andrew Conway makes that crowd roar for a big defensive play as he soars brilliantly to take an Owen Farrell cross-field kick in his own 22.

Superb take.

15Mins

And Conway’s excellence is backed up by CJ Stander, who looks in trouble at a breakdown, but gets the nod from Garces to give Munster a big penalty to relieve pressure on their 22-metre line.

Flag 18Mins

Saracens celebrate a penalty win, but it looks suspiciously like it comes after Owen Farrell’s tackle on Mike Haley crunches to contact while the fullback is still in the air taking a Garryowen.

PENALTY: Saracens 6 Munster 3 (Farrell ’18)

22Mins

For a second it looked like Andrew Conway was away as he fly-hacked clear after two Sarries attackers comically slipped on attack.

Unfortunately, we go back for a knock-on from Niall Scannell as he attempted a tackle.

26Mins

PENALTY: Saracens 9 Munster (Farrell ’26)

27Mins

Munster were under the pump in that last set, so conceding three is not a bad return. First they repelled a five metre maul and backed it up in phaseplay with both Chris Farrell and Mike Haley making telling impacts.

30Mins

Munster show some of their intent in attack, with venom in the pass from Bleyendaal.

Vunipola slows up a carry and Murray has to lend his weight to get the ruck formed, but Maro Itoje flops on the ball soon after the award comes for the province.

PENALTY: Saracens 9 Munster 6 (Bleyendaal ’30)

Murray Kinsella’s 30-minute appraisal is in.

35Mins

Offside penalty comes for Munster in midfield and, from this range, it’s time for Conor Murray to set down the tee and take aim with that big right boot…

Flag 36Mins

PENALTY! Saracens 9 Munster 9 (Murray ’36)

An absolutely brilliant strike from the scrum-half from somewhere over 45 metres.

Flag 40Mins

Peter O’Mahony almost gets a nice clean solid hit on Farrell, but the 10 pops a pass away and O’Mahony has a penalty called on him for the deliberate knock on as the ball bounces away off his forearm.

PENALTY: Saracens 12 Munster 9 (Farrell ’40)

HALF-TIME: Saracens 12 Munster 9

It’s hot, heavy and very very intense at the Ricoh.

Oof. An energy-draining 82 tackles racked up by Munster in that first-half as Saracens dominated possession (58%) and territory (62%).

The penalty count is the stat which best reflects the scoreline though, 5-6 against Munster.

40Mins

The boffins in Saracens physio crew have come up with the genius idea of lumping crushed ice into the water bottles. Will that little splash of cool help them get over the line here?

41Mins

Brad Barritt hasn’t re-emerged for the second half,  so Nick Tompkins will slot in between Farrell and Lozowski in the Sarries back-line.

Flag 44Mins

TRY! Saracens 19 Munster 9 (Rhodes ’44)

Exceptionally good start to the half for Saracens.

They trundle through 20 phases and into the Munster 22 before the pressure tells as Spencer fizzes a pass back inside from the left and Mike Rhodes storms through the gap.

Huge score in this game.

45Mins

The pressure threatening to crumble Munster now. Murray is wrapped by Liam Williams in the tackle and the 9 just tries too hard to force an offload and the ball hits the deck via Mike Haley’s hands.

47Mins

PENALTY! Saracens 22 Munster 9 ( Farrell ’47)

Give them an inch… and Saracens take a 10-o start to the second half.

48Mins

Here’s how the tie was swung the way of the English champions…

50Mins

You have to fear a little for Munster now as all the life has been sucked out of what had been a tight tussle. Saracens have all the momentum and energy in attack. Munster are racking up yet more tackles as they get backed into the shade in their 22.

53Mins

Saracens are intent on putting the squeeze on. They know this path well and won’t be warded off suffocating this contest.

The penalty comes after another forward-led bout of pressure in Munster’s 22 and Farrell isn’t going to miss his first of the day from 12 metres out.

PENALTY! Saracens 25 Munster 9 (Farrell ’53)

56Mins

Neglected to mention earlier, but the replacements have begun to trickle in for Munster. Archer for Ryan, Goggin for Haley and, just now, JJ replaces Bleyendaal at 10.

Last roll of the dice for Johann van Graan.

Munster come closer than they have all day as Tadhg Beirne leads a good maul drive and Murray hits up the excellent Chris Farrell.

Sarries do better than stand firm against the big centre, they get the penalty award too to bring play back upfield again.

64Mins

Well now, signs of a game rekindling here as Conor Murray steals a loose ball from Saracens five-metre scrum and Munster rapidly go wide thanks to Chris Farrell’s superb pass that ensured Sweetnam had space on his side as he took the outside line to the try-line.

JJ Hanrahan nails the conversion too and Munster are back within nine points.

Saracens 25 Munster 16

66Mins

A sickener of a penalty for Munster as Garces picks out O’Mahony at the breakdown.

Farrell squints in the sun… and flinches for the first time today as his long-range strike drifts right of the posts.

68Mins

The attendance is in…

74Mins

The man who attracted all the headlines last week over his homophobic backing of Israel Folau ploughs through another couple of Munster tacklers and plants down.

The chance was created by a brilliant take and break by Liam Williams running from deep and David Strettle earned further metres with a scything angled run before dam broke under the number 8.

Farrell, of course, added the conversion to gave Sarries a double-score lead.

Saracens 32 Munster 16

78Mins

TMO having a good long look at a Sarries clean out on Tadhg Beirne. It’s very, very dangerous indeed as the lock is upended by Koch and Itoje and fortunately does not land on his head or neck.

Itoje goes unpunished for his part and Koch takes the yellow card.

80Mins

The semi-final heartbreak goes on for Munster. 

They didn’t let this one get away from them early, but get away it did. And once Saracens scored early in the second half to take a 10-point lead the writing was on the wall.

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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