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Munster left with regrets after coming up short away to Saracens

Saracens boss Mark McCall praised the visiting team’s defence at Allianz Park

THERE WILL SURELY be regrets for Munster as they wake this morning, their bodies battered and bruised after what was a real battle with Saracens in a 15-6 defeat at Allianz Park yesterday.

Munster were leading in the 65th minute before the remarkable Vunipola brothers, Billy and Mako, made game-defining impacts by setting up and scoring two Saracens tries in the closing 15 minutes.

rory-scannell Munster came away from Allianz Park with nothing. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Johann van Graan’s side did earn a late penalty that out-half JJ Hanrahan would have backed himself to kick through the posts to grab a losing bonus point, but Munster instead opted to go to touch and were turned over by Sarries in the maul.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing but if Munster could do it all over again, they would take that shot at goal in an attempt to at least grab a consolatory losing bonus point.

“I think at that stage we had just got back in momentum,” said CJ Stander, who was the stand-in Munster captain after Peter O’Mahony pulled out just before kick-off due to a groin strain.

“We were thinking if we go here and set up a maul in the middle of the pitch… well, we tried it and it didn’t work out. That’s hindsight now, we should have gone for the three but that’s the feeling you have on the pitch.

“Look, we’ll probably have a chat as a leadership [group] and then next time don’t do it again, see how we feel.”

The game was a fiery affair, with an all-in scuffle in the second half sparked by what Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall claimed was a “horrible” comment directed at hooker Jamie George by Munster doctor Jamie Kearns.

Saracens seemed somewhat invigorated by that incident, overturning Munster’s slender lead and scoring their two tries through wing Sean Maitland – assisted brilliantly by Billy Vunipola – and loosehead prop Mako Vunipola.

“Whether it was coincidental, I’m not sure, but we certainly played a lot better afterwards,” said Saracens boss McCall of the scuffle before pointing out that Munster missed the penalty they were awarded after that incident.

That penalty miss, when they would have gone 9-3 ahead, may be another of the Munster regrets. 

peter-omahony-and-conor-murray-dejected-after-the-game Peter O'Mahony and Conor Murray after Munster's 15-6 defeat. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“We’re lucky because JJ missed a kick that would have given them a six-point lead,” said McCall. “It just felt that it picked up in the last 25 minutes. The boys are buoyed at how they played and if we play rugby like that we’ll be tough to beat.”

McCall did give Munster credit for their defensive performance, which was superb until that deeply frustrating endgame left them empty-handed.

“It’s a game that took a lot of winning really because the team that we became in the last 20-25 minutes is the team we want to be,” said McCall. “The team we were before that wasn’t too bad but it wasn’t good enough to trouble a brilliant Munster defence.

“Theirs was one of the best defensive performances I’ve seen here, but we made it too easy for them. We were predictable. There was another gear to go and we found that in the last 25 minutes.

“It’s good because we’ve shown ourselves what we’re capable of. We just need do that more consistently now.”

Munster now shift their focus to the festive Pro14 inter-provincial derbies but the visit to Racing 92 in round five of this pool will never be far from their thoughts.

If van Graan’s men want to reach the knock-out stages, they know they have to win away in Paris. It’s simply do-or-die on Sunday 12 January at Paris La Defense Arena.

“We knew it was going to be a tough pool and now it’s even tougher,” said Stander.

“But this is the way we like it, we want to grind it out.”

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Murray Kinsella

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