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Dublin: 5°C Tuesday 13 April 2021

Munster must take five steps up for 'different animal' semi against Saracens

Rassie Erasmus knows things are going to be a lot tougher at the Aviva Stadium next weekend.

MUNSTER’S WIN OVER Ulster at Thomond Park yesterday had many exciting moments and the outcome was unclear until the very last moment of the contest, but the truth is that the game was not of the very highest quality.

Munster players celebrate Keith Earls' try Munster celebrate man of the match Keith Earls' try. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

The error count from both sides, but particularly the Ulstermen, was a major disappointment. Rassie Erasmus came away content that his Munster team had worked hard to grind out their 22-20 win, but he knows this won’t be good enough next weekend.

Saracens are coming to Dublin with a rounded, accurate, clinical and aggressive matchday 23 that Erasmus understands will mean an altogether more difficult challenge than anything Munster have faced this season.

“Saracens are totally different but in certain aspects of the game I felt that intensity-wise, it was good,” said Erasmus of the test Ulster had offered.

“The pressure they put on your kicking game, the type of strike runners they have in the backline and the individual brilliance of a guy like Charles Piutau and Paddy Jackson and Ruan [Pienaar], they really tested us today and scored some easy tries where we made mistakes.

I’d rather have a game like this against quality opposition. But then Saracens will be five steps up, it won’t be like this.”

Captain Peter O’Mahony stated his pride at Munster’s performance to overcome Ulster, praising their ability to ride setbacks and respond well, but he too appreciates the fact that they are heading into something totally different.

Hosting Sarries at the Aviva Stadium next weekend brings pressure, of course, though the blindside flanker also underlined Munster’s determination to enjoy the build-up and the occasion.

“Obviously, the semi-final of Europe is going to be a different animal, but we spoke earlier about being in lots of different positions over the years,” said O’Mahony. “It’s always good to be competing for trophies at the end of the season and having plenty of rugby left at this time of the season.

Keith Earls after the game Keith Earls after the final whistle. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“I think we need to go and do our analysis this week. We have a lot to improve on from that game. We spoke about needing to enjoy it as well. At times, we have been hard on ourselves in these weeks and trying to tick things off, but I think we need to enjoy it.

“These things come around few and far between and we have put ourselves in a position to play in the semi-final of Europe. You’ve got to enjoy the week, you’ve got to do a huge amount of work, but you’ve got to enjoy doing the work because these weeks don’t come around very often.”

Making life more difficult for Munster are injury concerns over Conor Murray, Rory Scannell, CJ Stander, Duncan Williams and Darren Sweetnam.

The first two in that list are the “big doubts” and would be great losses, but O’Mahony points out that Munster have been lucky with injuries up until now, so they won’t waste time cursing anyone if Murray and Scannell do miss out.

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Williams, presuming his groin strain is fine, will slot straight into Munster’s XV in the event that Murray does not recover from his shoulder injury, while Jaco Taute and Francis Saili would appear the obvious centre pairing should Scannell be ruled out.

“They played together two weeks ago and they did OK,” said Erasmus of the Taute/Saili combination. “The nice thing is that Ian Keatley got through 45 minutes today after a six week layoff with his knee.

“Francis got through another 80 for us, Tyler can cover centre for us, Earlsie can cover centre for us – which he did for the last 15 minutes with Pete on the wing – so we’ve got some options there.

Angus Lloyd scores a try despite Sean Reidy Angus Lloyd scored a first-half try. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“Ronan O’Mahony is there [on the wing] if Earlsie has to go into the centre, so we’ve got a few options there. But it would be a loss if we did lose Rory Scannell for next week.”

Missing Murray would also mean that Munster would be carrying an inexperienced scrum-half on their bench in either Angus Lloyd or Abrie Griesel, but both men performed well against Ulster yesterday.

“Abrie has had a hamstring [injury], it was his first game back in four weeks and Angus to step in and play solid, I think it was a solid performance against a world-class nine he was playing against,” said Erasmus.

“Obviously, Ruan, in many facets of the game, puts tremendous pressure on guys and we played against a good team.

“We can be as happy as we can be with two nines who suddenly slotted in out of nowhere. It’s tough to slot in and play a pressure game. I think they can be proud of themselves, it was definitely not flawless but it was gutsy.”

Collectively, Erasmus might describe his Munster team in the same way and now we get to see if their often riveting brand of rugby is enough to down European champions Saracens.

They’ll try to enjoy the week, as O’Mahony said, but you get the feeling that they will be counting down the hours already.

Munster’s Conor Murray and Rory Scannell are ‘big doubts’ to face Saracens

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Murray Kinsella

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