By Behind the Bench
April 23 2017

A virtually impenetrable performance in defence provided the platform for a win which puts Saracens in the European final for a third successive season. In a tight first half, the visitors absorbed sustained pressure from Munster, and more of the same in the second half saw the "hosts" struggle to get over the gain line, whilst typically clinical finishing assured a comfortable Sarries win.

Line ups saw Munster start with Simon Zebo at full back, with Andrew Conway and Keith Earls on the wings and a centre partnership of Jaco Taute and Rory Scannell. Tyler Bleyendaal was at fly half with Duncan Williams in for the injured Conor Murray at scrum half. In the forwards, Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell and John Ryan formed the front row as Donnacha Ryan and Billy Holland teamed up in the second row and the back row comprised of captain Peter O'Mahony, Tommy O'Donnell and CJ Stander. For Saracens, Alex Goode was at full back, with Chris Ashton and Sean Maitland occupying the wings outside Marcelo Bosch and Brad Barritt, whilst Owen Farrell and Richard Wigglesworth teamed up in the half backs. Pack-wise, Mako Vunipola, Jamie George and Vincent Koch made up the front row with a lock combination of Maro Itoje and George Kruis and a back row trio of Michael Rhodes, Jackson Wray and Billy Vunipola.

Munster started the match with real intent with Saracens pushed back on their own scrum on the edge of the 22 as the province launched a sustained series of drives but only had a sixth minute penalty from Bleyendaal to show for it. The home side squandered an attacking opportunity soon afterwards, knocking on shortly after Sarries were penalised for not releasing the tackled player. However, the visitors should have been in front on ten minutes when a flowing move through the hands found Maitland in space on the left only for the supporting Wigglesworth to knock on with the line looming. Munster were heavily reliant on the dual kicking of their half backs which had the odd threatening moment but were variable in quality. Saracens were level on 14 minutes when a scrum penalty provided a lineout 30 metres out and subsequently, Munster failed to roll away and Farrell made it 3-3.

Munster had a decent chance on 17 minutes when a Williams kick caused a mix up in the visiting defence and forced Goode to carry into touch. The hosts set up the rolling maul from the lineout and an attempted clearance by Farrell was charged down only for Zebo to loose the ball on contact after several phases. Saracens were penalised for an aerial challenge and high tackle in quick succession as the game entered its second quarter, the latter seeing Wray yellow-carded and whilst Munster pressed, they couldn't gain any ground and were eventually pinged for holding on. However, the Irish side continued to enjoy a majority of territory and possession but were constantly repelled by a side who completed 90% of their tackles. As we know, this Saracens side is adept at taking any chances which come their way, and when Munster knocked on 30 metres out, successive scrums yielded a penalty and Farrell made it 6-3. They finished the half strongly as Billy Vunipola made a half break and they began to spray the ball around. A swift counter attack saw Mako Vunipola hack the ball forward with Ashton in pursuit but the ball just eluded him as the first 40 minutes came to a close.

The attacking promise continued into the early minutes of the second half as Farrell spread play to Maitland on the left wing but a promising move was spoilt by a handling error. However, Zebo had a sniff of an intercept try six minutes in, only for play to be pulled back for a scrum which saw Munster gain the penalty but nothing came from the consequent lineout. After the home side lost their own scrum inside the 22, incisive play concluded in Kruis stretching for the line but loosing control as the Irish province enjoyed a massive let-off. However, it was a temporary reprieve as a poor Bleyendaal kick presented Saracens with a ten metre lineout to set up the rolling maul. With the defence successfully sucked in , the ball was spread right for Mako Vunipola to go over and Farrell added the extras for 13-3 after 54 minutes.

What was perhaps a decisive moment came two minutes later when a disappointing kick from the restart gave Munster good attacking position from which they forced an infringement but Bleyendaal failed to hit the target with a moderately difficult penalty. In the context, a ten point lead appeared daunting as the home side's attacking efforts became increasingly fragmented. Farrell was able to ease the visitors further ahead from a scrum penalty with 63 minutes, and though Munster had another period of pressure, aiming to crash over just wasn't effective. Appropriately, the clinching try came from a turnover as Farrell's clever angled luck to the left set up returning replacement Chris Wyles and he was able to add the conversion for 23-3, completing a perfect kicking display with six minutes to go as the hosts were caught offside. Munster earnt a converted consolation score through Stander as they finally capitalised on close range pressure but Saracens were well worth the win after another clinical performance of control.

15 Simon Zebo - 14 Andrew Conway - 13 Jaco Taute (22 Francis Saili 56) - 12 Rory Scannell - 11 Keith Earls  (23 Darren Sweetnam 64) - 10 Tyler Bleyendaal (22 Ian Keatley 72) -  9 Duncan Williams - 1 Dave Kilcoyne (17 James Cronin 53) - 2 Niall Scannell (16 Rhys Marshall 61) - 3 John Ryan (18 Stephen Archer 64) - 4 Donnacha Ryan - 5 Billy Holland - 6 Peter O'Mahony (c) (20 Dave O'Callaghan 53) - 7 Tommy O'Donnell (19 Jean Deysel 51) - 8 CJ Stander

15 Alex Goode - 14 Chris Ashton - 13 Marcelo Bosch - 12 Brad Barritt (c) - 11 Sean Maitland (23 Chris Wyles 63) - 10 Owen Farrell (22 Alex Lozowski 75) - 9 Richard Wigglesworth (21 Ben Spencer 72) - 1 Mako Vunipola (17 Titi Lamositele 72) - 2 Jamie George (16 Schalk Brits 51) - 3 Vincent Koch (18 Petrus du Plessis 72) - 4 Maro Itoje (19 Jim Hamilton 75) - 5 George Kruis - 6 Michael Rhodes - 7 Jackson Wray (20 Schalk Burger 56) - 8 Billy Vunipola


Munster (10): Try: Stander; Conv: Keatley  Pen:Bleyendaal

Saracens (26): Tries: M Vunipola, Wyles; Convs: Farrell (2); Pens: Farrell (4)

Attendance:- 51,700

Referee: R Poite



pqs: qs:
Posted by: (IP Logged)
Date: 23/04/2017 11:24

Couldn't be in Dublin but was driving to little DG's house along Edinburgh Way to watch the match and I thought then - this has to be an omen!

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 2017:05:02:19:34:59 by Darraghgirl.

Posted by: TonyTaff (IP Logged)
Date: 23/04/2017 14:09

Cheers, Gerard.diplomatic about the errors!

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