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Friday 19 July 2019

Munster are struggling to break the semi-final ceiling

KEY ROLE: Conor Murray. Pic: Sportsfile
KEY ROLE: Conor Murray. Pic: Sportsfile

Munster will have to rely on two market leaders to hold a reasonable shot at shocking Saracens at t he Ricoh Arena in the Champions Cup semi-final this afternoon.

Their workaholic No 8 CJ Stander has made more tackles (112) than any other player in the competition and super-agile second row Tadhg Beirne has swiped more turnovers (14) than any other player in the competition.

They will have to tackle their hearts out and prevent Saracens from moving ruthlessly forward at the ruck.

If Munster can slow down the English club's flow of ball, they will be able to turn the JP Ferreira-patented defence into a weapon, not just a survival tool.

The good news is that Mark McCall has gone for Jackson Wray on the openside, not exactly a renowned groundhog in the mould of Ben Earl.

THREAT: Billy Vunipola. Pic: PA
THREAT: Billy Vunipola. Pic: PA

The same applies to Michael Rhodes and Billy Vunipola, although the latter can be an intermittent scourge in that area.

The last thing Munster should do is get involved in the we-have-it, you-have-it strategy which led to Glasgow's demise in the quarter-final. This is a time to fall back o n their rugby DNA as smart playing, percentage operators.

The game management of half-backs Conor Murray and Tyler Bleyendaal will be central to how Munster make ground.

The loss of Keith Earls is not as significant as the availability of Jean Kleyn in what is bound to be a war up front with the magnificent Mako Vunipola returning from injury for Sarries.

The matc h-up of Chris Farrell on Alex Lozowski could be the one Munster look to exploit with Andrew Conway and Darren Sweetnam capable finishers at this level.

However, Saracens have won two of the last three European Cups, made three of the last five finals.

They have the mental advantage of knowing what it takes to go all the way.

Munster have gotten to the semi-final four times in the previous six years, but no further.

This will show whether they have what it takes to finally crash through the semi-final ceiling.

Saracens: A Goode; S Maitland, A Lozowski, B Barritt (capt), L Williams; O Farrell, B Spencer; M Vunipola. J George, T Lamositele, M Itoje, G Kruis, M Rhodes, J Wray, B Vunipola.

Replacements: J Gray, R Barrington, V Koch, W Skelton, S Burger; R Wigglesworth, N Tompkins, D Strettle.

Munster: M Haley; A Conway, C Farrell, R Scannell, D Sweetnam; T Bleyendaal, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, N Scannell, J Ryan, J Kleyn, T Beirne, P O'Mahony (capt, J O'Donoghue, CJ Stander.

Replacements: R Marshall, J Loughman, S Archer, B Holland, A Botha; A Mathewson, JJ Hanrahan, D Goggin.

Verdict: Saracens.

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