Munster left with that sinking feeling after losing a titanic battle
Munster needed a reprieve, and were almost literally handed one. When Saracens renewed the offensive from around half-way, Farrell delayed his intended skip pass to Brad Barritt and somehow didn’t see that the likelier receiver was James Downey. The Munster centre duly grabbed the proverbial present and offloaded when chased down for Howlett to score.
O’Gara converted to draw the sides level and to further disrupt Saracens’ rhythm, Laulala shot out of the line to utterly nail Chris Ashton and force a spillage. Joel Tomkins did leave Downey for dead in midfield, but after Saracens opted to go to the corner, Laulala made another superb tackle on Tomkins and the half ended with Farrell missing an angled penalty after alert covering by O’Gara and some argy-bargy.
As the rain teemed down at the start of the second half, so both teams went to the air more, and with increasing success. After O’Dea failed to gather a Wigglesworth box kick, Farrell missed another angled penalty but O’Dea atoned with his chase of a Murray box kick, forcing a penalty from Ashton when Downey was first man in and O’Gara pushed Munster in front for the first time. Alas, the last too.
The penalty count turned against them, primarily because Saracens’ scrum gained the upper hand – Mako Vunipola having replaced Rhys Gill at half-time.
A huge scrum enabled Farrell to nail the first of two quick-fire penalties to reward their third quarter dominance.
Munster worked their way downfield through a couple of trademark raking touchfinders by O’Gara, some good mauling and close-in rumbling, although Saracens worked their way out of their own endzone efficiently.
With Will Fraser binned for a high tackle, Munster upped the ante but after one 25 phase drive O’Gara’s straightish 35 metre drop goal was wide as was an ensuing 40 metre penalty before Fraser’s return. They felt like pivotal moments. Instead, Will Fraser returned to win a penalty after Barritt stopped Zebo from breaking out for Farrell to close out the scoring. And their scrum closed out the game.
Scoring sequence: 9 mins Farrell pen 3-0; 17 mins O’Gara pen 3-3; 21 mins Strettle try, Farrell con 10-3; 26 mins Howlett try, O’Gara con 10-10; (half-time 10-10); 51 mins O’Gara pen 10-13; 57 mins Farrell pen 13-13; 60 mins Farrell pen 16-13; 77 mins Farrell pen 19-13. SARACENS: A Goode; C Ashton, J Tomkins, B Barritt, D Strettle; O Farrell, R Wigglesworth; R Gill, S Brits, M Stevens; S Borthwick (capt), M Botha; G Kruis, W Fraser, K Brown. Replacements: M Vunipola for Gill (half-time), J Smit for Brits (60 mins), C Wyles for Goode (61 mins). Not used: P Du Plessis, E Sheriff, E Joubert, N de Kock, C Hodgson. Sin bin: Fraser (62 mins). MUNSTER: F Jones; D Howlett (capt), C Laulala, J Downey, S Zebo; R OGara, C Murray; W du Preez, M Sherry, BJ Botha; Donncha OCallaghan, D Ryan; David OCallaghan, P OMahony, J Coughlan. Replacements: L ODea for Jones (20 mins), P Butler for O’Mahony (67 mins), M Horan for du Preez (71 mins), S Archer for Botha (77 mins). Not used: D Varley, B Holland, D Williams, I Keatley. Referee: Jerome Garces (France).