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Saracens wary of 'incredible man' O'Mahony but 'have a plan' for Beirne

The Munster captain led several Saracens players on the Lions tour in 2017.

AS ANYONE WHO watched Saracens dismantle Glasgow in the Heineken Champions Cup quarter-finals will know, you simply have to disrupt Mark McCall’s side when they’ve got the ball.

Seven tries in a rampant performance demonstrated just how good the English club are they get into their stride and Munster will appreciate it better than anyone.

Handily enough, Johann van Graan has two of the best spoilers in Europe in his team in the shape of captain Peter O’Mahony and second row Tadhg Beirne.

Jamie George, Maro Itoje and Peter O'Mahony celebrate winning Jamie George and Peter O'Mahony during the 2017 Lions tour. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

O’Mahony is joint-top of the lineout steals list in this competition so far with five, Beirne not too far behind on three.

Beirne, meanwhile, leads the ‘turnovers won’ charts with 14, with O’Mahony currently on six.

Saracens have spent time looking at the threat of Munster’s dual destroyers, although many of McCall’s players were already familiar with both.

O’Mahony – having played against them for Ireland before – captained Owen Farrell, Mako Vunipola, Liam Williams, George Kruis, Maro Itoje and Jamie George in the Lions’ first Test against the All Blacks in 2017.

Though O’Mahony was then dropped by Lions boss Warren Gatland after a 30-15 defeat and didn’t feature again in the Test series, the Saracens players have respect for the Munster man.

“Me and Pete got on pretty well, actually,” says hooker George. “First of all, what an incredible man and an unbelievable leader in terms of his captaincy on and off the field

“He’s one of the best I’ve worked with, even if it was for a short period time. His record speaks for itself, so many Ireland caps and British and Irish Lions caps.

“He has got an aura about him and he’s an incredibly impressive character.”

Maro Itoje and Peter O'Mahony celebrate winning Maro Itoje with O'Mahony. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

For his part, O’Mahony was equally impressed with the Saracens players on that Lions tour of New Zealand.

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“They were very impressive with regard to their thinking of the game, forward-thinking, game plan thinking,” says the Munster captain.

“You learn a huge amount from the way they approach the game and how they implement it. You see that at the weekends and it’s very impressive.”

O’Mahony will be looking to continue his fine record of pinching lineouts on Saturday in Coventry, with George’s throw coming into his focus this time around.

“It’s difficult,” says George of dealing with O’Mahony’s lineout threat. “He’s one of the best lineout operators in the world at the minute and I saw that first-hand on the Lions tour.

“Our lineout has worked well for us and we came up with a good plan against Glasgow after a few uncertain ones. George Kruis will be calling and I’ll be under pressure to get the ball to the right areas. The set-piece will be a defining area of the game, it’s hugely important.”

O’Mahony says Kruis “did an incredible amount of lineout work and video” on the Lions tour and expects Saracens to be superbly prepared, while he says George “has a lovely throw as well. They’re certainly a complete lineout team.”

Tadhg Beirne celebrates after the game Beirne has been superb for Munster. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

Beirne isn’t as well known to the Saracens players on a personal level but he has featured prominently in their analysis ahead of this European semi-final, given how much of a danger he is with his jackal turnovers.

McCall’s team are sublime when they get quick ball at ruck time, meaning that dealing with Beirne is a key focus.

“We’re aware of Tadhg’s threat,” says George. “He is fantastic over the ball and he has so many turnovers. He’s very strong over the ball.

“We have a plan in place to take that away from him and it’s an area which is so important. They pride themselves on it and we have to be right on our game there in order for us to get our attack flowing.” 

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Murray Kinsella

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