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Dublin: 7 °C Saturday 25 January, 2020
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Munster need 'close to the perfect performance' to win on the road against Saracens

Johann van Graan knows his team have been some way off perfect so far.

MUNSTER ARE REALISTIC enough about themselves to understand that they are quite some distance from perfection right now.

But they will need something close to it to emerge from Allianz Park with a victory over Saracens on Saturday.

The southern province need to produce a huge result either away to Sarries this weekend or on their trip to Paris to face Racing 92 in the fifth round of Heineken Champions Cup Pool 4 in January in order to reach the quarter-finals of Europe. 

johann-van-graan Munster trained in the rain in Limerick yesterday. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

It’s daunting enough stuff, although Munster have been written off many times before only to produce big performances against the odds. 

Van Graan’s frustration is that his team already have their backs against the wall with key men still fully integrating after their ill-fated trip to Japan with Ireland in recent months, while coaches Stephen Larkham and Graham Rowntree are still relatively new.

“We, as a coaching group, spoke about it,” said van Graan in Limerick yesterday. “The players that went to the World Cup are only here for four weeks, this is their fifth week. Two new coaches in and, like I said at the beginning of the season, you wish that you were already a year down the track.

“We’re literally only a month down the track, I think they [the Ireland players] came in on 4 November and today is 10 December and they already all had one week off.

“There’s still a long way to go in terms of perfection.

“I agree with you that to beat Saracens away you need close to the perfect performance. They’ve played something like 20 games in Europe in Allianz Park and only lost once against Clermont in 2017, when they were on a six-game losing streak.

“They just don’t lose there. They’re a fantastic rugby team, if you want to beat the European champions away you’re going to have to be at your very best. Otherwise, you’ll come second.”

peter-omahony Munster are aiming for a huge win this weekend. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

As such, Munster have plenty of improving to do this week on the back of last weekend’s 10-3 win over a weakened-but-not-weak Saracens team at Thomond Park.

Sarries boss Mark McCall is set to bring back in some of his England stars who were rested for the trip to Limerick, meaning Munster will need to be considerably better this time around.

So, what are the improvements van Graan and co. can realistically target? 

“Some of the chances that we created, the positive is that we created them but it’s frustrating we didn’t finish them,” said the Munster boss.

“Especially in that first half when we played some excellent rugby, I know two big moments… when the ball was slapped out of Stephen Archer’s hand three yards from the goalline was a massive moment.

“The try that Rory [Scannell] scored that was called back for just being forward, so two clear-cut opportunities from our side and it could have been a different game.

“You’ve also got to look on the other side – they hit the sticks twice and we managed to exit once. The first time on Chris [Farrell, when his kick hit team-mate Archer], they got the ball back and walked away with three points.

“Both sides had to adapt to the conditions, I think it was important… like every week, you’ve got to learn from the previous week and if you were to play against the wind again what would you do differently?

conor-murray Conor Murray will be a key man at Allianz Park. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“You look at the forecast and it looks like there may be a big wind again. If it turns out that way you know you’ll play for 40 minutes with it and 40 against.”

There is little doubt that winning in Allianz Park would be a milestone achievement for this Munster squad and this coaching group.

“They’re a team we hadn’t won against since 2014 and we’ve done that over the weekend,” said van Graan.

“To go away to a team like Saracens, like I said only Clermont have managed to beat them there so a massive challenge ahead and I think the important thing from our side is to stick to the process and we shouldn’t focus on a win or a loss or a bonus point or four tries.

“You’ve got to go out there and play well and I think that’s something we are looking to improve. As you would have seen, we are playing more but also finding a balance and hopefully winning the game.”

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Murray Kinsella

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