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Thursday 23 November 2017

Saracens minted as Murray fails to make epic showdown

Munster’s powerful back-row forward CJ Stander. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Munster’s powerful back-row forward CJ Stander. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

CJ Stander, Tommy O'Donnell and Peter O'Mahony will have to be at the peak of their powers for Munster to put it up to Saracens at The Aviva Stadium this afternoon.

It is highly doubtful Stander can be near 100 per cent from the ankle injury sustained against Toulouse in the quarter-final as Munster make a record-breaking 12th semi-final.

The champions back-row is not all about their England number eight Billy Vunipola either.

Michael Rhodes and Jackson Wray complete a steel curtain that will take shifting by Munster's terrific three. It is very difficult to get away from the simple fact Munster are just not the same force to be reckoned with without Conor Murray.

Afterall, former England lock Ben Kay this week described the scrum-half as the most consistent player in Europe over the last two seasons.

For all of Tyler Bleyendaal's fine form, it has come in behind the service and security of Murray in the big games.

In fairness, longstanding understudy Duncan Williams played above the standard expected against Toulouse in the quarter-final.

This will be different. The Corkman will have to deal with heavier pressure coming through the ruck and on the fringes.

When Sarries get rolling forward in waves, their momentum is almost impossible to arrest.

Athletic

Hooker Jamie George, lineout caller George Kruis and the athletic Maro Itoje are always well-connected out of touch.

Maybe, just maybe, the Munster front five, especially John Ryan, will be able to go after the scrum where Mako Vunipola can be vulnerable.

The battle of the backlines is one of Jacques Nienaber's new defence against the English club's more established system with a 'Wolfpack' mentality.

The recovery of Rory Scannell from his ankle problem gives Munster a second playmaker with whom to manipulate the back three.

The kicking game from Williams, Bleyendaal and Scannell will have to be on the money as Saracens full-back Alex Goode is as good as there is from counter-attack.

Saracens have made a good habit out of coming from behind in recent seasons.

It will take something special to deny them a shot at back-to-back titles.

Murray just could be the missing ingredient from making that happen.

Munster: S Zebo; A Conway, J Taute, R Scannell, K Earls; T Bleyendaal, D Williams; D Kilcoyne, N Scannell, J Ryan, D Ryan, B Holland, P O'Mahony (capt), T O'Donnell, CJ Stander.

Saracens: A Goode; C Ashton, M Bosch, B Barritt (capt), S Maitland; O Farrell, R Wigglesworth; M Vunipola, J George, V Koch, M Itoje, G Kruis, M Rhodes, J Wray, B Vunipola.

Verdict: Saracens

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