Conor Murray makes a first-half break. ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

As it happened: Munster v Saracens, Heineken Cup

Rob Penney’s men welcomed a Sarries team to Thomond Park that were previously unbeaten in Pool 1.

Munster faced a Saracens side, at Thomond Park, that put 30 points on Racing Metro and thrashed Edinburgh 45-0 to date.

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Munster 15-9 Saracens

Did somebody say ‘must win’? Munster will need back-to-back victories over Mark McCall’s men to have a chance of advancing to the Heineken Cup quarter-finals.

What a dream-team down on the sidelines – Will ‘Willers’ Greenwood and Alan ‘Quinny’ Quinlan nattering away in front of the Sky Sports cameras. Those rugby players have some imagination. I would’ve said ‘Greener’ for the Englishman. I would call Quinlan no names.

Here is the team news:

Munster: F Jones; D Howlett (capt), K Earls, J Downey, S Zebo; R O’Gara, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, M Sherry, BJ Botha; D O’Callaghan, D Ryan; Dave O’Callaghan, P O’Mahony, J Coughlan.

Replacements: D Varley, W du Preez, S Archer, B Holland, P Butler, D Williams, I Keatley, C Laulala.

Saracens: A Goode; C Ashton, O Farrell, B Barritt, C Wyles; C Hodgson, N de Kock: R Gill, S Brits, M Stevens, S Borthwick (capt), M Botha, K Brown, W Fraser, E Joubert.

Replacements: J Smit, M Vunipola, P Du Plessis, G Kruis, A Saull, R Wigglesworth, J Tomkins, D Strettle.

Pleasant but chilly weather down in Limerick this evening. This is how Munster last fared in their last Heineken Cup outing:

YouTube credit: Lelostream

The ‘Stand up and Fight’ music is bellowing out to get the crowd into the mood. Owen Farrell – nominee for IRB Player of the Year – lines out at outside centre for Sarries.

Kick-off! Great start for a swarming Munster as they claim an O’Gara restart but Murray’s service is sloppy and the chance is lost before Dave O’Callaghan wanders offside.

Chris Ashton and Simon Zebo have a few words but it is nothing too serious. Sarries won their 24th consecutive H-Cup lineout there but Mike Sherry botches his first attempt. Skittering and inaccurate.

Will Fraser is offside for a de Kock up-and-under so Ronan O’Gara saunters up and slots a simple penalty over and it is Munster 3-0 Saracens

Dave O’Callaghan does well here as he wrests possession away from Brown. Murray with a super break after a dummy pass to Kilcoyne. He flips up a pass to the charging Zebo but there is interference from Chris Ashton and the ball is fumbled forward. Faces getting mushed at the scrum – BJ Botha and Gill get a talking to.

Ashton at full stretch to cut out what would have been a pass to put Zebo clear down the left. Gill then gets the plaudits at the scrum as Saracens shunt Munster’s pack backwards. Lineout time [Saracens fans love lineouts]. They win it and play bundles into the Munster 22 before Donncha wins his side a scrum by holding up Joubert.

Very close call for Munster as Saracens dash forward through Goode and Brad Barrit. Ashton is close to connecting with the chip over the tryline but Felix Jones cleans up.

Penalty miss – Mike Sherry is too excited chasing down a high ball and goes off his feet. Owen Farrell steps up but his kick from 40 metres out is weak and drops short. 15 minutes gone.

Saracens lose a lineout! Brits throws it too long and O’Gara pounces before chipping through and hauling de Kock down close to his tryline. More over-eagerness gains Saracens a pressure relieving penalty.

Turnover ball outside the Sarries 22 and Keith Earls scythes through the home defence before he is wrestled to the ground. The home crowd are livid though as yet another penalty goes against them.

The game continues but there has been a full-blown scrap raging for a whole minute. All 30 players get involved as the cameras focus on a Farrell and O’Mahony conference. Pascal Gauzere consults with his line judge. Gill [again] and Donncha are called in and both receive yellow cards.

Munster are up for this now as the Saracens lineout fails again and they lose another scrum. O’Gara misses touch with his penalty out of the hand. Doug Howlett finds O’Mahony out the right wing but Ryan flobs a pass out of play and forward.

Someone thinks everyone’s favourite French whistleblower, Roman Poite would do a better job:

O’Gara will get a chance to double the lead as Kelly Brown goes off his feet at the breakdown. I don’t know how it was not a penalty about 30 seconds before as Murray was shadowed by three Sarries bruisers before he even touched the ball at the back of a ruck. Ronan gets the kick, 35 metres out, and it is Munster 6-0 Saracens

Doug Howlett destroys Schalk Brits in a tackle out on the left wing. Rousing stuff.

South Africa (Brits) meets New Zealand (Howlett). (Credit: Sky Sports)

Early engagement does for Botha at the scrum and Borthwick wants a reset. Good pressure defence from Zebo moments before that.

So good when a big talking point goes horribly wrong – except for Ireland’s vaunted defence at Euro 2012. The Saracens lineout malfunctions yet again. Their scrum is much better and Howlett says to Gauzere ‘Tell me what I can do to help?’ The response was something along the lines of ‘Tell them not to pop up’. Farrell up again from to the left of the posts, 25 metres out. He gets it and the score is Munster 6-3 Saracens after 37 minutes.

Good news for reader ‘Herr Gruber’, who is in cabin on a ship off Myanmar, Munster have another penalty.

Big Donncha tackled in the lineout and O’Gara does the dirty work from 30 metres out to make it Munster 9-3 Saracens. Seconds to go to the break.

Stirring stuff from Munster as Earls and Kilcoyne pound forward. Play settles down and O’Gara sizes up a drop goal but it is just wide. HALF-TIME.

Holy mackerel, Myanmar is ages away from Limerick!

Munster A have beaten Rotherham Titans 36-21 in the B&I Cup today. ‘How did the Munster Women’s get on against Connacht?’ I hear you ask. Good.

The referee Pascal Gauzere is getting untold grief in our comments section and on our Twitter and Facebook pages. Anybody want to speak up in his defence?

Looking back at first half highlights and Conor Murray might have been better off pinning his ears back and going for the tryline rather than trying to connect with Zebo in the first 10 minutes.

What does Ronan O’Gara make of the refereeing so far?

‘That fella would break your melt’

The lads are back on the Thomond Park pitch and Munster will be eager for the next score.

Gauzere does not like Donncha O’Callaghan. The lock is off his feet at a Sarries breakdown and a penalty is conceded. Farrel is short, once again, from 45 metres out near the left touchline. Direction good, length not so good. Munster still lead by six.

‘Side entry the maul’ says Gauzere as Ryan gets pinged for illegally entering a Saracens maul. More straightforward penalty attempt for Farrell and he strikes it over. Munster 9-6 Saracens after 44 minutes.

Has to be a penalty on Brits and it is. Brits never realised Earls on the turf after hauling him down. O’Gara kicks for touch and Munster secure lineout ball, just about, to set up an attack. No, O’Mahony is whistled for a non-existent knock-on and Saracens get a boo. You rarely see ‘away team’ reffing.

Kelly Brown and his bushy eyebrows scrunch in pain as Munster steal the ball at a Sarries scrum. A penalty is then conceded for that faltering scrum and O’Gara, from 20 metres out, strokes it over. Munster 12-6 Saracens

Saracens might be English but ‘they don’t like it up ‘em’ as another lineout is lost before they knock forward in scrambling defensively inside their 22. Munster pound up the left-hand flank. 52 minutes have ticked by.

Joubert is penalised for cobra-wrapping Zebo in a tackle and refusing to release. Gauzere threatens another yellow card but the most important update here is that O’Gara has chipped over penalty number five to make it Munster 15-6 Saracens

Earls bashes Ashton in the tackle but Conor Murray then has a Racing Metro moment here as he spoils a fine Munster attack by misplacing a pass. The forwards try to back-track and retain the ball but a penalty is conceded for not releasing the ball when tackled. Farrell out left – he missed a similar one about 10 minutes ago – and it goes left and wide this time.

James Downey in rarified air as he streaks through the Saracens defence to near the 22. Lovely bit of crash ball rugby. 20 minutes to go.

‘Hello fate, I’m here to tempt you’

Keith Earls told us a couple of weeks ago that he loves the feeling of hardly being able to get out of bed on a Sunday ‘because your shoulder’s are hanging off you’. He’ll feel that tomorrow as he is lacing into any white shirt moving. John Smit on for Saracens and 16 minutes remain.

We have a TMO as Fraser goes close but it does not look good. They should have scored there – they had the numbers out wide. Shame, for them, that it fell to a forward rather than someone like Ashton or Goode. Howlett and Zebo combined well to shunt the back-row’s legs into touch.

Simon Zebo’s big boot (©) gomes good as he hoofs to nigh on the halfway line. Sarries’ David Strettle is off the bench and he latches onto a Wigglesworth pass to hare down the left. He beats Earls but not Jones and is shoved out of play.

Damien Varley and Earls combine to bring down a Sarries sub and win a penalty for a non release. O’Gara will not be going to the bench any time soon and he kicks for touch. 11 minutes to go and the score is 15-6 as Munster lose the lineout.

Gauzere whistles Murray for a crooked put-in to the scrum. That does not go down well in Limerick. Howlett then steals a stray ball from a creaking scrum. His offload to James Coughlan is fine but the back-row is whistled for a forward pass to Murray. Shiver me timbers! Botha gets penalised at the resulting scrum. This is Gauzere’s first season as a Heineken Cup ref. He’s learning all the time. Big fan of wedgewood I’m told*.

*I’m not.

Zebo is then whistled for an off-the-ball obstruction on Ashton to prevent a kick and chase try. Farrell with a kick to get his stats up to 50%. 20 metres out, to the right of the posts and he misses it! Hits the posts. From the perspective of a Saracens supporter, that stunk.

O’Gara shins a 22 drop-out and it hurtles out on the full. Saracens get a scrum on the Munster 22 but the home side win it. O’Gara kicks clear but the whistle sounds again and ‘off your feet’ is the call on this occasion. Three minutes to play and Farrell gets penalty chance number seven. He will go for the posts…

Gets it and the losing bonus point, for now, is secure. Munster 15-9 Saracens but it is not over yet.

Munster in possession and they could work it upfield for a drop goal attempt. Murray thinks the better of it and kicks the ball out of play. Only time will tell if that was the smart decision. Munster win 15-9. FULL-TIME

Munster conceded 17 penalties in this game and they looked to be the dominant side. I wonder what Rob Penney will make of that? We will keep you updated on the post-match reactions and comments over the coming hours.

Leinster will hope to make it four Irish wins from four tomorrow in Clermont-Ferrand.

From Monaleen to Myanmar and everywhere in between, cheers for the company and the comments.

McLaughlin determined to stand up to Clermont ‘bullies’

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