Halfway through writing this I’ve come back to the start, it’s going to be more an account of a great weekend than a match report – you have been warned!
As my Saracens friends have found out I’m not a fan of flying, the only times of late I’ve been on a plane have been to watch Saracens play Munster in Limerick, twice and England in Dublin. My team lost on all 3 occasions, I was hopeful that this trip would be more successful for the team from England!
My good friend Sharon had booked flights for the 3 of us before the final whistle was blown on the semi-final against Glasgow Warriors, at the point of no return as far as a Saracens win was concerned. That meant we had an 8:15am flight from Stansted to Dublin for a reasonable £80, it also meant for me I had 2 people to ‘hold my hand’.
I booked Fast Track Security, twice, which made me a bit daft! I sometimes think I could do with a secretary! I therefore breezed through, only to have to walk through what seemed like miles of shops, all a bot too bright and breezy at 7am! I met Alun and Sharon in Coast to Coast for breakfast, a waiter intent on burning hands meant we got our start to the day with £15 off!
The flight was certainly a lot more bearable with company, but my goodness the Ryanair stewardess had me turning into a potty mouth, No, I didn’t want scratch cards, perfume, tea or snack! And I heard the first time! Just Shuuuuuush!!
Take off and Landing are my fears, and we survived both, so not all bad! We were staying in Bray for the long weekend so hired a car to get us there and back, the Satnav we were using took us to Swords first, which wasn’t an unpleasant detour, we arrived way too early to check in but were lucky enough to be able to go to our rooms. We were staying in the Royal Hotel, I have to say I think the photos on show must have been taken 20 years ago. The public areas were very well done, the rooms were slightly jaded.
However overall we had a very good time at the hotel, the Friday was spent chilling, with more than the odd Gin & Tonic consumed by some! The group grew as the day went on, with more Saracens friends making their base in Dublin. A group of us walked up to the Mt Everest of Katmandu restaurant where we had a really tasty Nepalese meal, this was pretty much like a curry, very tasty and not too hot. I’d really recommend trip to the restaurant.
The heating was on in the bedroom which meant it was a little too warm for my tastes, but, I had a decent sleep and was raring to go for game day.
Some of the organised early risers had breakfast in the hotel, a number of us saved ourselves for an Irish Breakfast at Seasons in Dublin, we travelled to Dublin on the train, a very easy journey, it took us straight to the Aviva Stadium, making Bray the perfect place to stay. The bar was busy when we arrived but we were still able to order a decent breakfast, the service was impressive as was the food.
There were several hours to burn and much fun was had all round, it was wonderful to see lots of Saracens fans amongst the many Munster fans, I rarely drink but I discovered the joys of Kopparberg cider, me with pint glass in hand is an unusual sight! The bar really hotted up when ‘Sweet Caroline’ was played with every Saracens fan singing at the top of their voice. The Saracens Supporters Association had done the homework needed to make sure Saracens fans gathered in numbers
It turned out that Seasons was probably as far from the section of the ground we were sitting in as possible, therefore a good deal of the alcohol consumed was walked off on the way, which was no bad thing.
I felt this match would be the hardest test of the season so far, while the Aviva is clearly in Ireland it wasn’t meant to be a home venue as such for Munster, their fans however will make almost every ground they come to feel like a home match. That’s was a given, what shouldn’t have been a given was that all of the build up was about Munster’s and how they got to the semi-final, not a word about the Champions, Saracens. It was also slightly annoying that the announcer kept questioning whether there were any Saracens fans in the ground, because, yes there were actually. That annoyance continued after the game when the likes of Sonja Mcloughlin asked the same again, competing the crowd to the one that turned up at Wembley, a lively exchange of tweets took place, we’re quite protective us Saracens fans!
Munster were without Connor Murray, the scrum half is a key player for both club and country, he will also hopefully be key to the Lions this summer. He hasn’t recovered from an injury that took place when Ireland were playing Wales. The injury look innocuous at the time and he was allowed to play on, that may well have proved to be costly all round.
Saracens had experienced flyhallf Richard Wigglesworth back in the starting 9 shirt, after Ben Spencer had started against Northampton Saints, alongside him were the 6 men named as Lions tourists – Owen Farrell, George Kruis, Maro Itoje, Billy Vunipola, Mako Vunipola and Jamie George along with a further 8 Saracens. Munster had several internationals and 2 Lions on the pitch CJ Stander and Peter O’Mahoney. This was a clash of 2 classy teams, with a fair amount of history between them, I’d seen Saracens lose twice in Limerick myself, would this be third tie lucky as far as my viewing was concerned?
The teams emerged to a cacophony of sound, yes the Munster fans had the loudest voice, but we made as much noise as we could too. The club had brought flags for us all, but they were red, so as you can imagine they blended in.
Munster started the match at 100mph and looked like they were going to run all over the Saracens Wolfpack, they won a penalty on 6 minutes, duly converted by Tyler Bleyendaal, as a Saracens fan I was feeling very nervous, however Owen Farrell even up the score 10 minutes later. Munster threw everything they had at Saracens whose cause wasn’t helped when Jackson Wray, who for me has been Man of the Season this year, made a high tackle resulting in a yellow card.
It’s always vital that teams keep 15 men on the field, and here we had Saracens in a European Champions Cup semi-final down to 14. This is a scenario that the team from North London train for, I heard a stat via the earpiece I’d bought that Saracens had played for 45 minutes with 14 men in the competition and only conceded 17 points. In this instance they didn’t let a single point through. Their defence was to say the least, immense. The only further points of the first half were the 3 added by Farrell, the teams went in at half time with the scores on Munster 3 Saracens 3. The Munster fans behind us weren’t feeling optimistic.
The teams came out after the break, Munster suffered a big blow as their captain O’Mahomey went of for what I believe was a Head Injury Assessment, he wasn’t to return. Mako Vunipola who’d astonished all watching with a decent kick into space in the first half scored the first try, in spite of his shape and size, his skills wouldn’t be out of place in the back line, Farrell converted the try and added a penalty 10 minutes later as the visitors started to pull away.
Amongst the Saracens Sean Maitland was one who seemed to be struggling at times, he’d put himself into a superb position in the first half, with Wigglesworth inside him with a clear run to the try line, he threw a pass that was far too high for he scrum half, he dropped the ball. Maitland was replaced in the second half by a Saracens favourite Chris Wyles, returning after injury he scored the second try of the match. Farrell, who’d clearly packed his kicking boots converted the try and added a penalty. With 6 minutes of the match remaining the score was Munster 3 Saracens 26, quite amazing that Munster had been kept scoreless for nearly 70 minutes.
They did get a consolation try on 79 minutes as CJ Stander gave the large crowd something to cheer about, Ian Keatley converted but the game was won by the English team, who book another place in the Final. As Holders, Saracens, will be attempting to become the fourth club in history to win Europe’s premier club title in back-to-back seasons. Leicester Tigers were first to achieve the feat in 2001 and 2002, followed by Leinster in 2011 and 2012 and then RC Toulon in 2013, 2014 and 2015.
Mark McCall – Director of Rugby for Saracens –
“I thought our defence was extraordinary. We soaked up a lot of pressure and coped with their attack really well. The game started exactly as they would have wanted. We couldn’t really escape our half in the first half but our defence remained good. It was a brilliant occasion. Munster’s supporters are as good as any in the world. In the face of that, the fight and the togetherness we had to show, to win the game was brilliant.”
Rassie Erasmus – Director of Rugby for Munster
“We played against a team that were better than us. That’s a reality. Even though there were stages that were close and we had a few opportunities, I thought the scoreboard was a true reflection of the game.”
The Munster fans had been ferocious during the match, but to a man they were wonderful after it, on the walk to the Bridge Pub where a room had been set aside for Saracens fans, every one we walked past congratulated us and wished us well for Edinburgh. It was a delight!
A few happy hours went by in the Bridge before a few of us felt the need for food, and so we headed for the train. In spite of calling ahead to the hotel they couldn’t provide any food for us, fortunately Steve and his lovely wife Clare had spotted a Chinese restaurant who did have food for the 6 of us in need.
Sunday was a chilled day, with breakfast at the hotel, followed by a lovely walk along the sea front, the sun even made an appearance, it really was a pleasure. Food was available in the hotel, and very nice it was too, food, drink and the second Challenge Cup and Champions Cup semi-finals wee on for us to watch. ASM Clermont Auvergne reached the final for the third time – their two previous appearances in 2013 and 2015 ended in defeats to RC Toulon. At BT Murrayfield next month, they will be attempting to become the 12th club to win the European Cup. Saracens will be hoping to stop them and must go into the game as favourites.
A chilled Sunday was followed by a chilled Monday, the flight home was again bearable with the cabin staff being far less insistent, we arrived slightly early, it really is just a hop over to Dublin, I’ve always fancied watching Leinster v Munster – I might just have to do it!
Edinburgh was booked weeks ago, I’m doing a 4 day road trip with my friend Monica, a load of us were going whoever got to the final, it’ll be all the better for having Saracens in it! I also have a new Gloucester shirt ready for the Challenge Cup final, it should be another great weekend!
I hope my good friend David, who always takes wonderful photos doesn’t mind me sharing a few he took over the weekend here –