Munster left with that sinking feeling after losing a titanic battle
Saracens 19 Munster 13Over the course of two good old-fashioned and titanic European arm wrestles, there was little or nothing between them. Indeed the match statistics are almost dead level, with Munster ultra competitive at the breakdown, almost as effective as Saracens on their own ball and defensively almost as impenetrable. It really did, as Rob Penney suggest afterwards, come down to tiny margins.Losing David Kilcoyne on the morning of the game, albeit after he had succumbed to a tummy bug late on Friday night, really was a killer blow, for in addition to losing the young prop’s ballast with the ball in hand, their scrum increasingly struggled – all the more so when Saracens brought on some heavyweight impact off the bench.
It yielded Saracens six points in the final quarter as, ultimately, with one try apiece, it came down to a kicking duel again between the respective halves, and they had the same number of shots at goal as last week too. But whereas Owen Farrell was three from seven a week ago, he was five from seven here, and whereas Ronan O’Gara was five from five a week ago, he was three from five yesterday.
Munster were undoubtedly discommoded when injury befell Felix Jones yet again; the 22-year-old Luke O’Dea coming on for his Euro debut in what was only his 16th competitive appearance.
Well enough though O’Dea coped, and on moving immediately to fullback Simon Zebo was again excellent under the high ball as well as delivering his customary long punts, within two minutes Saracens struck for their sole seven-pointer of the two matches.
Admittedly, Munster’s sole try, which followed soon after, was off an intercept, which is a graphic illustration of how suffocating this battle was on the tight confines of soccer club Watford’s narrow pitch.
Saracens had three line breaks to Munster’s two, and excellent though Mike Sherry, Peter O’Mahony and co were, in truth Munster rarely looked like opening Saracens up, whether resorting to close-range drives when the rain poured down for the second-half or when moving the ball wide in the face of Saracens’ sharper line speed in defence.
Tried though he might, Casey Laulala couldn’t free his hands in the face of so much double tackling, and to his credit he almost single-handedly upped Munster’s line speed with a huge, big-tackling defensive effort.
Ultra physical hits
A la Clermont, though not Leinster, Saracens pushed hard, with blisteringly quick line speed and ultra physical hits. This was eye-catchingly apparent from the off. O’Gara, cleverly, responded with a little dink over the top (something Leinster might have tried) for Zebo to latch onto it, but Richard Wigglesworth made the sweeping tackle. And from the recycle, as with any other occasion Munster moved the ball through the hands, they ended up in retreat.
By then Owen Farrell had failed to reward an ominous bout of hard, straight running by Sarries when missing a routine drop goal, though he atoned with a 45-metre penalty for hands in a ruck.
O’Gara failed with his first shot at goal from about 40 metres out, but when he went to the air Doug Howlett made the tackle, O’Mahony was quickly in to contest the ball and O’Gara nailed the resulting penalty.
But on foot of losing Jones, waves of hard running testing Munster close in and on the blind side, where Wigglesworth chopped through delightfully for the lively David Strettle to touchdown in a vacant in-goal area. Farrell converted from wide out.