Defending champions Saracens beat Munster 26-10 in Dublin on Saturday to secure their place in the European Champions Cup final. JON CARDINELLI reports.
Munster threw absolutely everything they had at the Saracens defence. They had the backing of a loud and passionate crowd at the Aviva Stadium. At one stage, they had a one-man advantage when Saracens flank Jackson Wray spent 10 minutes in the sin bin.
It was not enough, though, as Saracens simply refused to be breached.
Wray was shown a yellow card for foul play in the 23rd minute. Munster enjoyed a wealth of territory and possession while Wray was off the park, but were guilty of kicking too much ball away. The tactic to kick the ball high and force Saracens into errors was overplayed by the likes of Duncan Williams and Tyler Bleyendaal.
The hosts scored zero points while Wray was in the bin. Meanwhile, Saracens took their kicking chances at the other end of the park, with Owen Farrell nailing two penalty goals to steer his side to a 6-3 lead at half-time.
Saracens did blow several try-scoring chances. Scrumhalf Richard Wigglesworth dropped the ball with the tryline at his mercy early in the first half. Another scoring chance went begging at the start of the second stanza when lock George Kruis spilled the ball over the line.
But the defending champions eventually received a reward. Mako Vunipola emerged from a pile of bodies in the 53rd minute, and the ensuing conversion by Farrell extended the visitors' lead to 10 points.
The crowd began to quieten when Bleyendaal missed a relatively straight-forward penalty attempt in the 58th minute. Springbok tighthead Vincent Koch, who had a massive game for the visitors and was the official Man of the Match, made an important steal at the breakdown thereafter, and this allowed Saracens to clear their lines.
Koch and the Saracens forwards then won a penalty at the scrum. Farrell extended the lead by a further three points.
Munster started to panic. They battled to make inroads into the Saracens defence, and a drop-goal attempt by Bleyendaal only succeeded in hitting the upright.
An accurate grubber kick by Farrell set Chris Wyles up for the game-sealing try. The Saracens flyhalf converted the try, as well as a subsequent penalty attempt to finish the game with a personal tally of 16 points.
In the 80th minute, CJ Stander crashed over for a consolation try. The score, however, only served to add some respectability to the scoreline.
Clermont and Leinster will meet in the second European Champions Cup semi-final on Sunday.
Munster – Try: CJ Stander. Conversion: Ian Keatley. Penalty: Tyler Bleyendaal.
Saracens – Tries: Mako Vunipola, Chris Wyles. Conversion: Owen Farrell (2). Penalties: Farrell (4).
Munster – 15 Simon Zebo, 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Jaco Taute, 12 Rory Scannell, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Tyler Bleyendaal, 9 Duncan Williams, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Tommy O’Donnell, 6 Peter O’Mahony (c), 5 Billy Holland, 4 Donnacha Ryan, 3 John Ryan, 2 Niall Scannell, 1 Dave Kilcoyne.
Subs: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 James Cronin, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Dave O’Callaghan, 20 Jean Deysel, 21 Ian Keatley, 22 Francis Saili, 23 Darren Sweetnam.
Saracens – 15 Alex Goode, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Brad Barritt (c), 11 Sean Maitland, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Jackson Wray, 6 Michael Rhodes, 5 George Kruis, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Subs: 16 Schalk Brits, 17 Titi Lamositele, 18 Petrus Du Plessis, 19 Jim Hamilton, 20 Schalk Burger, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Alex Lozowski, 23 Chris Wyles.
Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Getty Images