Our rugby scribe previews Saturday's ERCC semi-final between Munster and Saracens.
In the first of what promises to be an absolutely mouth-watering weekend of some of the very best that European club rugby has to offer, Munster and Saracens square-off in the first of this season’s ERCC semi-finals. The Munstermen, on an incredible upward trajectory, ever since Rassie Erasmus took over the reins last year, have been nothing short of sensational this season. Their style-of-play has left many European sides sprawling in their wake, but they face their sternest test yet against this powerhouse of a Saracens outfit on Saturday. The defending champions are slight favourites to come out trumps at Thomond Park, and their recent form surely attests to this (four wins on the bounce), however, they will head into this one with knowing full well that they are engaging in a massive step-up from their quarter-final win over Glasgow.
Munster v Saracens | Saturday 22 April | Aviva Stadium | 17:15
To Win (80 Mins)
Munster 14/10 | Draw 18/1 | Saracens 6/10
This season has seen the revival of one of Europe’s historically great club sides, and watching them evolve and evolve under Erasmus has been an absolute privilege. Munster have played with pride and hunger this campaign, and winning this championship would be the strawberry atop their meteoric rise pudding. Captain (and recently announced British and Irish Lion) Peter O’Mahony, has seen his team come from nowhere, to suddenly rubbing heads with European club rugby’s elite. The sense of harmony and unity within the squad has, without doubt, contributed to their success, but they come up against a Saracens side renowned for their “family environment”, and one that certainly knows how to win the big match-ups.
Munster will look to disrupt the Sarries lineout, especially with extra line-out jumpers like O’Mahony and CJ Stander in their ranks. Saracens rely heavily on their set-pieces running smoothly to set-up their attacking plays, and you can bet that Erasmus will target this area in a bid to slow the pace of their game down. Another key area for the Irishmen will be the midfield, where their English rivals look to lay the platform for their wide attack off the back of quick first-phase ball. If the Munster centres can hit their Saracens counterparts backwards in midfield, they will be able to nullify much of their attack.
Saracens may have had a rather average domestic season so far, but their European performances have been fantastic. It took them a while to ward off the Glasgow Warriors challenge in their quarter-final, but they eventually managed to power their way to a comfortable win. Despite the fact that they’re playing away from the comforts of the Allianz, Mark McCall’s men will back their game-plan against Munster, having done it all and won it all before, and will be aching for a chance to make it back-to-back championship wins.
This Saracens outfit is the complete package, with brawn in the form of the brothers Vunipola, and brains in the shape of Owen Farrell and Richard Wigglesworth. Sarries have the potential to hurt a side from anywhere on the field and, as Ireland great Gordon D’Arcy put it in the midweek, are “at the peak of their evolutionary ladder”. They have the strategy, pedigree and experience to down Munster this weekend… and it’s hard to see them doing any less on Saturday.
Verdict: Saracens 6/10
This Saracens team is full of confidence in themselves, and Mark McCall has instilled a winning mentality in them. Munster will run them close, but Saracens are such a superb side that it really is hard to bet against them – no matter how close the odds may be.