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Dublin: 8°C Sunday 18 April 2021

Munster's European dream ended in Dublin by impressive Saracens

Mark McCall’s side were superb once again and emerged with a deserved 26-10 win.

Munster 10

Saracens 26

Murray Kinsella reports from the Aviva Stadium

THE PASSAGE OF PLAY between the 66th and 71st minutes summed this contest up. And ended it.

Munster in the Saracens 22. 18 phases of one-out, direct carrying at a Sarries defence that loved every moment of it. The English side hammered in with superb tackle technique, chopping legs and slamming upper bodies again and again.

Saracens celebrate as Mako Vunipola scores a try

Munster simply couldn’t find an attacking answer to the linespeed as they desperately fought for the score they needed to keep the game alive, before Tyler Bleyendaal missed with a sloppy drop-goal attempt.

Three times Saracens exited their defensive territory, racing after the ball with impressive work rate and hunger, before they finally forced a turnover from Munster. Owen Farrell, summoning energy when others were out on their feet, grubbered in behind Munster and replacement wing Chris Wyles won the race to the ball.

23-3 and confirmation of the result that looked like it had been coming for a long time. A better team finding the answer and ending this Champions Cup semi-final.

Mark McCall’s impressive machine rolls on into the final in Edinburgh on 13 May, where they await Leinster or Clermont, while Munster’s European season ends in a fashion that will leave them with certain regrets.

Rassie Erasmus’ men simply didn’t bring enough invention in attack as they relied solely on their kicking game as a means of pressuring Saracens. There were some rousing aerial wins from the likes of Simon Zebo, but it was simply too one-dimensional from Munster.

With Bleyendaal struggling to bring the creative edge he has added on other occasions this season and Conor Murray missed at scrum-half, the southern province were blunt and impotent against Saracens’ superb defence.

Chris Wyles scores his sides second try

This season has been a heartwarming journey for Munster, bringing their incredible support – so vocal today – back to a stage where it feels like they belong, but the Irish side clearly have a long way to go before they reach the holy grail again.

In the end, they were well beaten and a first-half that left them trailing 6-3 despite huge amounts of territory and possession, as well as Sarries being reduced to 14 men for 10 minutes after Jackson Wray’s sin-binning, was so damaging.

There was a late consolation try from CJ Stander but even the talismanic number eight had a quiet afternoon as Saracens blitzed the Munster attack and gleefully soaked up pressure.

McCall’s men even missed three try-scoring chances, rather uncharacteristically, and they will be extremely difficult to beat in the final.

Munster’s start was ferocious and promised so much, with The Fields of Athenry booming around the Aviva as early as the fourth minute.

Donnacha Ryan slammed into a hit on Billy Vunipola, before John Ryan destroyed Mako Vunipola in the opening scrum of the afternoon, leading into Tommy O’Donnell initiating a brilliant choke tackle for a turnover in Saracens’ 22.

Simon Zebo with Alex Goode

Munster played off scrum advantage, before Sarries conceded rather cynically by not rolling away and Bleyendaal slotted three points in the seventh minute.

Saracens should have been ahead only three minutes later as their slick attacking structure saw them shift the ball accurately wide left for the bust, but Richard Wigglesworth dropped Sean Maitland’s inside pass with a clear run to the tryline. A butchering.

But the Sarries scrum-half was clever in ensuring a penalty for his side soon after, Andrew Conway the man pinged for not rolling away and allowing Owen Farrell to level proceedings.

Munster were handed a boost with Wray’s yellow card in the 23rd minute, slightly harsh for a high tackle on Duncan Williams as the Munster scrum-half slipped into the tackle, though the contact was with the face.

However, Sarries managed the 10-minute period like champions, soaking up the intense pressure of Munster’s kicking game, the aerial brilliance of Zebo and two close-range mauls from Erasmus’ men.

Wray returned with Munster having failed to take advantage and Sarries pushed 6-3 ahead at the very next scrum, Farrell punishing Kilcoyne for being penalised for hinging.

Owen Farrell kicks a penalty

That half-time deficit for Munster felt like scant return on a 63% share of possession and 72% of the territory.

The first drizzle of the afternoon arrived in time for the second half, with Williams’ box kick directly into touch meaning a negative start for Munster.

It was a sign of things to come as Saracens got wholly to grips with Munster’s kicking tactics and the accuracy from Williams and Bleyendaal dipped. Sarries grew into the game.

Twice, they could have scored between the 50th and 54th minute. First, Chris Ashton knocked-on wide on the right with the tryline in sight after a brilliant double-screen play from a lineout platform.

Then George Kruis spilled over the tryline as he reached out following a clever break over the top of a ruck under the Munster posts, with replacement back row Jean Deysel’s despairing tackle proving crucial.

But the pressure continued to build and Munster cracked in the 55th minute. Sarries’ maul took them to within striking distance before Mako Vunipola burrowed through the tackle of Keith Earls and Jaco Taute to touch down, with Farrell converting.

Duncan Williams clears the ball under pressure from Maro Itoje

Francis Saili followed Deysel off the bench as Erasmus looked for attacking spark, but it was Munster’s forward carriers who eked out a kickable penalty only for Bleyendaal to miss when his side so badly needed something.

It had been a must-score situation but the Kiwi’s error on what was a poor day was morale-sapping and Saracens turned the screw even further when Farrell’s penalty rewarded a powerful scrum to make it 16-3.

Losing captain Peter O’Mahony to a head injury didn’t help matters for Munster and they simply couldn’t manage the final twist of strangulation from this classy Saracens side.

Munster scorers: 

Tries: CJ Stander

Conversions: Ian Keatley [1 from 1]

Penalties: Tyler Bleyendaal [1 from 2]

Saracens scorers:

Tries: Mako Vunipola, Chris Wyles

Conversions: Owen Farrell [2 from 2]

Penalties: Owen Farrell [3 from 3]

MUNSTER: Simon Zebo; Andrew Conway, Jaco Taute (Francis Saili ’56), Rory Scannell, Keith Earls (Darren Sweetnam ’64); Tyler Bleyendaal (Ian Keatley ’72), Duncan Williams; Dave Kilcoyne (James Cronin ’53), Niall Scannell (Rhys Marshall ’61), John Ryan (Stephen Archer ’64); Donnacha Ryan, Billy Holland; Peter O’Mahony (captain) (Dave O’Callaghan ’53), Tommy O’Donnell (Jean Deysel ’51), CJ Stander.

SARACENS: Alex Goode; Chris Ashton, Marcelo Bosch (Alex Lozowski ’75), Brad Barritt (captain), Sean Maitland (Chris Wyles ’63); Owen Farrell, Richard Wigglesworth (Ben Spencer ’72); Mako Vunipola (Titi Lamositele ’72), Jamie George (Schalk Brits ’51), Vincent Koch (Petrus Du Plessis ’72); Maro Itoje (Jim Hamilton ’75), George Kruis; Michael Rhodes, Jackson Wray (yellow card ’23 to ’33) (Schalk Burger ’56), Billy Vunipola.

Referee: Romain Poite [FFR].

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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