'Their power up front was key in the second half'
A normally ebullient Simon Zebo could scarcely conceal his disappointment
A second away defeat to one of their main group rivals won’t have had Munster feeling they were architects of their own downfall to such a degree, but after such a brave effort in Watford yesterday the away dressing-room won’t have been feeling much better.
Even the normally ebullient Simon Zebo could scarcely conceal his disappointment. “Very hard fought, it was a very hard game and we believed going into half-time we were in with a chance.
“We were doing the right things and getting in the right areas. But their power up front was key in the second half and I suppose we let ourselves down with some silly penalties that they capitalised on in the end.”
Munster’s increasing scrum difficulties – something of an Achilles’ heel for both provincial and national teams in recent times – was one of the weekend’s recurring themes, as was the sense that their opponents generally adapted better to meeting the same opponents for the second week running.
Aside from rectifying their set-pieces, Saracens were notably more quicker and aggressive in pushing up hard into Munster’s faces. Zebo is a free spirit, who likes to run with the ball, and although his catching and kicking after switching to fullback following Felix Jones’ departure were of the top order, he conceded that the narrow confines of Vicarage Road, the wet conditions and the home defence made for a suffocating game.
“Yeah, when you are looking back on it there was few spaces with which to run the ball,” said Zebo, as instead Ronan O’Gara went to the air, “realising we weren’t going to get much space out wide, and that’s exactly what they were doing as well.
“It was just a matter of trying to get your penalties and trying to kick them successfully and trying to look for that powerplay and get the score when we should have, when they were down to 14 men but it didn’t come.”
That 10-minute period when Saracens were reduced to 14 men just after the hour was, perhaps, Munster’s chance. “I thought that was a crucial part of the game when they got that yellow card; I felt we were going to dominate a little more than we actually did.
“One or two calls mightn’t have gone our way and there may have been one or two handling errors but I suppose we needed a little bit more, probably dot down a score but we weren’t able to do that on the night. It is kind of hard to know what happened on the night, probably left one or two scores out there.”
Zebo maintained he was not remotely affected by the repeated recourse to Stand Up for Saracens over the PA system.
“Not at all, it started to sound like a home game. We had great support over here. The Munster fans are unbelievable, there was a great turnout. If that hadn’t been played, I wouldn’t have really noticed because the Munster fans are so good. It was a brilliant atmosphere, brilliant to play in, you always expect that when you are playing red for Munster.”
“There are two other big teams vying for one position. We need to go out and win our next two games, we can’t really concentrate on anything more than that. It is still in our control; we still believe that we can get out of this group, yeh, it is going to be all or nothing in the next two games.”
“The performance had a bit of everything,” said Saracens’ Director of Rugby Mark McCall.
“There were times in the first half when we played some good stuff in attack and when we had to in the second half, we dug in and fought.
“Especially that little period when we were down to 14 men and had to defend for two minutes in our 22.
“We had to improve certain fundamental things from last weekend, primarily our set-piece. And that was at a very high level today. Our lineout was 100 per cent, the scrum very importantly got on top in the last 20 minutes. So our foundations were much better than last week.”
As to the overall pool scenario, McCall said: “After four games, you want to have things in your own hands and control your own destiny. We have Racing away and they’re right back in it. They have to go to Thomond Park. There’ll be a few twists and turns in this group. But we know that if we win twice, we’ll be through.”