Munster eager to halt dismal run of six semi-final defeats
Province have lost six of seven in which they failed to score first try and were trailing at half-time
Billy Vunipola of Saracens breaks with the ball during the Champions Cup semi -final win over Munster at the Aviva Stadium in 2017 in Dublin. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images
Trying to establish points of difference statistically in terms of the Heineken Champions Cup semi-finalists borrows from the lamppost analogy and spawns an argument about whether they serve to lean-on or illuminate. It’s definitely a bit of both in sifting through the figures.
There is a symmetry to the pairings as two-time tournament winners Munster take on Saracens at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry, the English club having also accumulated a brace of outright competition victories while on the Sunday, Leinster and Toulouse, who share eight titles equally, meet at the Aviva Stadium. But that’s where the neat and tidy stuff ends.
Toulouse are the only club who can boast a winning record at the penultimate stage of the European Cup having won six of 10 semi-finals, Saracens break even (3-3) in terms of their six, while Leinster (four wins in 10) and Munster, four wins in 13, will be hoping to improve those respective figures.
Leo Cullen’s Leinster might care to add however that every time they have triumphed in a semi-final they have gone on to win the trophy.
The graphic contains the playing record of all four clubs in semi-finals, whether they were ahead or behind at half-time in each of those matches, and also whether they scored or conceded the first try in the specified games.
Dealing with this weekend’s semi-finals in order, Saracens and Munster will meet for a third time at this stage of the competition and the second time at the Ricoh Arena. In 2008 the Irish province under Declan Kidney prevailed, 18-16, against an Alan Gaffney-coached Saracens; the Australian had led Munster from 2002-2005.
The English club scored the first try of the match through wing Kameli Ratuvou but by half-time they trailed 15-7 and could not quite close the gap on the scoreboard. Saracens have scored the first try three times in semi-finals, winning two matches and losing one, while they have gone to on triumph when ahead at half-time in three of four games. The exception was a 13-9 defeat to Clermont Auvergne.
Mark McCall’s club avenged that previous defeat to Munster by beating the Irish province 26-10 in the Aviva Stadium at the same stage of the tournament two years ago. Munster have lost six semi-finals in succession, having won four of their first seven.
Twice they have come back from trailing at the interval to win, against Toulouse (2000) and Castres Olympique (2002). On the flip side, they lost to Toulouse in 2003 and Biarritz Olympique (2010) when in front after the opening 40 minutes.
A red flag for Munster supporters is that they have been beaten in six of the seven matches in which they both failed to score the first try and were trailing at half-time – they bucked that trend against Castres – and also all three games in which they didn’t manage to cross their opponents’ line; Stade Francais (2001), Toulouse (2003) and Leinster (2009).
Toulouse are the only one of the four teams left in this season’s tournament who have been beaten in a semi-final on a countback of tries. In the 1999 tournament their clash with Brive ended 22-22 after extra time but Toulouse lost out having scored one try to their opponents’ two. Their opponents Leinster have also lost a semi-final after extra time, going down 25-20 to Toulon in 2015.
The French club have twice given up a half-time lead in a semi-final in 1999 and 2000 and only once, against Munster in 2003 have they overturned an interval deficit. They have scored the first try in four of the six wins, the two aberrations against Biarritz (2004) and London Irish at Twickenham (2008).
In three of four semi-final successes Leinster have been leading at half-time, the exception when they came from behind to beat Clermont Auvergne at the Stade Chaban Delmas in 2012.
When the Irish province scored the opening try in the matches under scrutiny they won four in five, the exception being Perpignan at Lansdowne Road (2003) when they crossed the line first and led at half-time but still lost 21-14.
When Leinster have conceded that first try they have lost all five semi-finals.
So what of this weekend’s games?
In shorthand form, Munster and Saracens are tied 1-1 in the head-to-head semi-finals, the favourites at the time winning both these matches, with victory unusually going to the away team.
Leinster and Toulouse also stand at 1-1 but in this case the home team prevailing, although the French club might prefer to point out that they beat Leinster when the Irish province were defending champions in the 2009-210 season only for Leinster to reciprocate in kind the following year.
So based purely on historical precedent, it’s as clear as mud; Saracens are favourites, Munster are the away team, Leinster are at home but Toulouse beat them, albeit on French soil, the last time the Irish province reigned as tournament champions.