©INPHO/Andrew Fosker Mark McCall believes Saracens were well below their best at the weekend.
Irish Abroad
Exiles: McCall backs Saracens to right the wrongs of Thomond showdown
The former Ulster coach is confident his side can progress to the Heineken Cup quarter-finals.

MARK MCCALL ADMITTED his Saracens side were ‘well below our best’ in their 15-9 Heineken Cup pool loss to Munster at the weekend.

The former Ulster coach watched his team’s much-vaunted lineout and Owen Farrell’s kicking game disintegrate in the cacophonous surrounds of Thomond Park.

He declared that his team played ‘massively below the standards expected’ to win European matches but is confident Saracens can win the return tie at Vicarage Road on Sunday.

He said, “[The lineout] has been a huge strength of our team over the last three and a bit years so it is something I would expect to put right for next week.”

McCall added, “We got off to a poor start. Munster were very motivated at that time. We lost a couple of set pieces and, with it, momentum.

“It was a frustrating kind of a game because when we did have possession, they were happy to give penalties away.”

Referee Pascal Gauzere penalised Munster 18 times but Farrell missed four of his seven penalty attempts.

“I think we were the dominant scrum for definite,” said McCall. “Didn’t always get the outcomes we wanted for that.”

Criticism followed by kudos

The County Down native, head coach at Sarries for the past two seasons, was critical of Munster for slowing the game down and kicking away possession. He said:

Munster came into the game with a reputation for playing with the ball in hand but it was a pretty awful game, scrappy game.”

McCall said he was not surprised by the intensity shown by the Munster players in a match that Gauzere, for long periods, struggled to control.

“They’re fighting for their European lives and they’ve done it for 15 years now.

That’s why they’ve got the record they’ve got and why they get through to the quarter-finals. When they have to produce the goods they generally do and get the job done.”

He added, “You don’t often, in sport, get the chance to rectify what’s gone wrong a week later against the same opposition.

“That’s the beauty of these back-to-back matches.”

Elsewhere in Europe

Gareth Steenson kicked 17 points for Exeter Chiefs as they recorded their first ever Heineken Cup victory, defeating Scarlets 22-16. Tom Hayes captained the Chiefs to the away win while Ian Whitten featured off the bench.

Conor O’Shea expressed his satisfaction with Harlequin’s 57-14 win over Zebre. Eight tries were scored in the match including a double for winger Sam Smith.

Tony Buckley was in the Sale Sharks front row that were bested by Toulon on Saturday. The home team’s scrum woes were not the sole cause of Sharks’ 17-6 defeat but it certainly did not help.

There will be no Heineken Cup semi-final repeat for Michael Bradley’s Edinburgh. The Scots were beaten 19-9 by Racing Metro to lose their third consecutive pool match.

Geordan Murphy was an unused sub in Leicester Tigers win over Treviso while Robin Copeland played blindside flanker in Cardiff’s 35-24 loss to Montpellier.

Amlin Challenge Cup

Neil Best got a yellow card for Worcester but the Warriors were grateful for Andy Goode as he contributed all of their points in a 22-21 win over Perpignan.

Bernard Jackman, forwards coach at Grenoble, will be delighted at his side’s defensive effort as they beat London Welsh 20-9.

Ian Humphreys scored seven points for London Irish in their loss to Gloucester, who featured Shane Monahan on the left wing.

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