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Dublin: 6 °C Wednesday 29 January, 2020
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Munster take on daunting task of beating reinforced Saracens away from home

The English side have welcomed back a raft of big names for the Allianz Park clash.

HAVING NOTCHED A losing bonus point in Thomond Park last weekend, one that left him frustrated and proud in equal parts, Saracens boss Mark McCall is in the enviable position of bringing back some real quality for his team’s return tie with Munster.

The southern province visit Allianz Park today [KO 3pm, BT Sport] facing a daunting task after McCall recalled England captain Owen Farrell, hooker Jamie George, wing Elliot Daly, loosehead prop Mako Vunipola, number eight Billy Vunipola, and lock George Kruis to his starting XV.

owen-farrell-celebrates-after-the-game Owen Farrell returns to captain Saracens. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Throw in World Cup-winning South African tighthead Vincent Koch and Scotland wing Sean Maitland too and it’s clear that Saracens’ 12 changes have made them a more imposing proposition.

While there is still a sprinkling of youth in the Sarries team in the likes of promising lock Joel Kpoku, fullback Max Malins, and flankers Nick Isiekwe and Ben Earl, this is a very strong Saracens team.

Most of the England front-liners are only playing for their club for the second time this season, but they looked in fine fettle in a gritty Premiership win over Bath two weekends ago. McCall’s squad never really lack in cohesion.

All in all, it makes for a major challenge for Munster, particularly given that the English side’s record on home soil is so good – they’ve lost just once in London in the Champions Cup on a rare blip of a day against Clermont in 2017.

Munster – who show just one change from last weekend with John Ryan coming in at tighthead – will, therefore, have to be close to perfect to earn a shock away victory against the reigning champions.

Saracens have knocked Munster out at the semi-final stage of the last two editions of the Champions Cup, when the southern province’s attack didn’t have the cutting edge to drive them to success.

It’s been the key focus under new senior coach Stephen Larkham this season, with encouraging results but Munster must be ultra-clinical against Sarries.

While the forecast suggests rain and wind again today in London, Munster will be hoping the weather is not quite as limiting as it was during the second half last weekend, when the downpour meant they couldn’t build on the promise of their first-half attack.

rory-scannell-runs-in-a-try-that-is-later-disallowed-as-conor-murray-celebrates Rory Scannell was frustrated to have a try disallowed last weekend. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“Hopefully, the weather will be a bit better but it’s going to be incredibly tough,” says inside centre Rory Scannell. “But we’re definitely more ambitious and more confident in the way we’re playing.

“Prior, we might have been a bit more conservative and looked at our kicking game a bit more, but I think our game is evolving into more of an all-round kind of game now, so hopefully we get a few chances at the weekend and show that our attack is improving.” 

Scannell is covering out-half again as Munster boss Johann van Graan opts to stick with his now usual 6/2 bench split even in the absence of Arno Botha, who was banned for three weeks after his red card last time out.

Van Graan has also kept Ireland international Tadhg Beirne at blindside flanker and captain Peter O’Mahony at openside, with Billy Holland running the lineout from the second row.

The visiting pack’s ability to compete physically will be as crucial as ever against Sarries, even if they have rotated the mammoth Will Skelton and Maro Itoje out of their team.

The Munster halfbacks, Conor Murray and JJ Hanrahan, also need to be intelligent, calm and controlling today as they look to find holes in Saracens’ defence and their backfield set-up, where the Max Malins gets his first European start.

With Munster requiring an away win here or against Racing in Paris in January, the pressure is on if they’re to get out of Pool 4 and into the knock-out stages of Europe.

The odds are stacked firmly against van Graan’s men, but Scannell reckons they can fire a few shots. Munster simply must take every one of them.

peter-omahony-celebrates-his-try-with-cj-stander Munster face a daunting task at Allianz Park. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“I think we have been quite clinical at times but it’s probably just about identifying a few opportunities that we might miss,” says Scannell.

“Hindsight is great when you look back at a video but it’s just that kind of that heads-up rugby and backing each other to take opportunities that we see in front of us.

“We are trying things and we made a few breaches in the first half last weekend and, you know, Sarries don’t leak very often. Even for Pete [O'Mahony]’s try, we got them around the edge and when you see things coming off it’s pleasing.

“So we’re working hard at that and hopefully we can see the same again this weekend if not a few more.”

Saracens:

15. Max Malins
14. Sean Maitland
13. Alex Lozowski
12. Nick Tompkins
11. Elliot Daly
10. Owen Farrell (captain)
9. Richard Wigglesworth

1. Mako Vunipola
2. Jamie George
3. Vincent Koch
4. Joel Kpoku
5. George Kruis
6. Nick Isiekwe
7. Ben Earl
8. Billy Vunipola

Replacements:

16. Tom Woolstencroft
17. Richard Barrington
18. Josh Ibuanokpe
19. Calum Clark
20. Jackson Wray
21. Ben Spencer
22. Manu Vunipola
23. Duncan Taylor

Munster:

15. Mike Haley
14. Andrew Conway
13. Chris Farrell
12. Rory Scannell
11. Keith Earls
10. JJ Hanrahan
9. Conor Murray

1. James Cronin
2. Niall Scannell
3. John Ryan
4. Jean Kleyn
5. Billy Holland
6. Tadhg Beirne
7. Peter O’Mahony (captain)
8. CJ Stander

Replacements:

16. Kevin O’Byrne
17. Liam O’Connor
18. Stephen Archer
19. Fineen Wycherley
20. Jack O’Donoghue
21. Nick McCarthy
22. Dan Goggin
23. Tommy O’Donnell

Referee: Pascal Gaüzère [France].

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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