Round 4 of the Champions Cup saw Munster arriving at Allianz Park; my first experience of Munster was at the impressive Thomond Park in Limerick in December 2012, followed up by their visit to the gloomy Vicarage Road. This was another double header and with the first match finishing Munster 15 Saracens 9 and the second Saracens 19 Munster 13 honours were even. I will never forget the spine tingling silence for the kicker in Limerick, I haven’t experienced anything like it before or since, well, other than back at Thomond Park in 2014.
I hadn’t planned on making the trip to Limerick again, but with an international rugby league match being played in Dublin on the Saturday to work in perfectly with the Friday night match I went for a second time. A rainy Friday night at Thomond Park is no easy place to play, and so it proved for Saracens as the final result was Munster 14 Saracens 3. The return fixture saw a change of fortunes with Saracens running in as winners; Saracens 33 Munster 10.
The next meeting between these 2 clubs saw them play a semi-final in Dublin. It felt like a home game for Munster, I’d guess Saracens fans were outnumbered by 5 to 1 at least. But, it was to be a happy trip across the Irish Sea to watch Saracens win a place in the final, with the final score Munster 10 Saracens 26.
last season saw a semi-final meeting again, it also saw another win for Saracens, the match took place at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry, but as always there were many Munster fans. The result was – Saracens 32 Saracens 16.
This season has seen the two teams in the same pool and in a double header draw to boot. Round 1 of 2 saw another windy/rainy day and and another win for Munster in Limerick. It was however a tight game with a score of Munster 10 Saracens 3, that meant a very valuable bonus point for a largely inexperienced Saracens team. A win for Munster was marred by a red card for Arno Botha after the 80 minutes were up.
And so to a sunny but cold day at Allianz Park, the afternoon didn’t start well for Munster when their captain Peter O’Mahoney was ruled out, an amazing player and great leader that will have been a big blow. Another blow came within 10 minutes of the start of the game as Tadgh Beirne went down with what looked like a horror injury, having seen it again on the TV I can see he’ll be out for a while this season. The referee did well to stop the game so quickly, it was a real shame to see Beirne leave the pitch on a stretcher.
The first half was a cagey affair, with the teams trading penalty kicks, Owen Farrell kicked one and missed one, JJ Hanrahan was successful twice. That gave Munster a 3 point advantage at half time. There was some mighty defending from both teams.
European Rugby always has an intensity to it, but double headers tend to have an added factor, this match was akin to watching a test match. I did feel at times that the referee lost some control, there was a lot of chat from both teams at times, with lots of warnings given and no action taken.
Things seemed to be at a stalemate in the second half, but that was all changed by the intervention of a medic of all people. 9 minutes into the half he decided to engage Jamie George in a way that very clearly infuriated him, usually a mild mannered young man it was clearly something very offensive to him. A major ruckus ensued when Jack O’Donoghue engaged in a more physical way with George. Piles of bodies came pouring over the edge of the pitch, it was handbags to all intents and purposes. It resulted in a penalty for Munster, because Owen Farrell got involved in the words of Sir, from 10 metres away; Farrell could be heard on the ref link pointing out that he’d engaged with the winger from the far side in a Munster shirt. The penalty kick was missed, but the incident seemed to inspire Saracens in a big way.
More will be heard about the incident as EPCR have announced an investigation, there really is no place for a medic to be involved with players unless it involves their physical welfare.
The team weren’t the only ones riled up, personally I’d nearly lost my voice by the end of the game, I really must remember not to shout like that when the cricket season starts!
There was no further score 20 minutes into the second half, when Saracens went for a scrum after a penalty, close to the Munster line, Billy Vunipola lost the ball as he ran from the back of the scrum, but Munster were offside. Another penalty saw another scrum, from which there was a third penalty in a row. According to Ugo Monye that was the 7th consecutive penalty against Munster. A warning was given to stand in captain CJ Stander, the next penalty would see a card. Saracens took a third scrum, this time Vunipola flipped a one handed basketball style pass out to Sean Maitland who went over the line to score the first try of the match. Farrell missed the conversion. But Saracens had a 2 point lead.
Another Vunipola, Mako, went over the line himself, having made a pass in the build up that would’ve graced any back, he picked the ball and went over the line to put his team further ahead. This was a simple kick and a 9 point lead for Saracens.
Munster went all out for a try of their own, but Saracens’ defence held, at one point George Kruis was to be seen kicking the ball away, a sight I’ve never seen before! Saracens stayed firm and the final score was Saracens 15 Munster 6.
Mako Vunipola received the Man Of The Match plaudit, but that could’ve gone to any number of players. Saracens young Full Back Max Malins in his first match of the season, as well as his first European start, shone as did a trio of young forwards, Joe Kpoku, Nick Isiekwe and Ben Earl. These 4 points have kept Saracens in contention in this pool. Back to league rugby for a few weeks now before Saracens travel to Swansea to take on The Ospreys and Munster travel to Paris for some indoor rugby against Racing 92.