Sar­ries know they must win that early bat­tle of wills

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Third time lucky? Two English teams in­clud­ing the na­tional XV have been sent pack­ing from Dublin this sea­son in no un­cer­tain man­ner af­ter tan­gling with pumpedup Ir­ish op­po­si­tion so we can safely as­sume that Saracens know what is await­ing them at the Aviva Sta­dium next Satur­day.

It could, should, be an epic be­tween two very sim­i­lar sides not pre­pared to give an inch and in its own way I ex­pect it to match the Mun­ster/Wasps epic of 2004 which prob­a­bly re­mains the great­est sin­gle match in Euro­pean Cup history. Pos­si­bly not quite so many tries and points as that try fest but a Test match in all but name.

Mun­ster are on the march and no mat­ter what the op­po­si­tion – and Sar­ries have been the class team in Europe over the last two sea­sons – they will de­mand re­spect. Many talk about the An­thony Fo­ley fac­tor fuelling Mun­ster this sea­son and his pass­ing cer­tainly had a gal­vanis­ing ef­fect in the au­tumn but this is a qual­ity Mun­ster team that was al­ways go­ing to come good at some stage.

The raw emo­tion of Oc­to­ber and Novem­ber pos­si­bly kick-started Mun­ster but as we ap­proach late April those days are long gone.

No side with the likes of CJ Stander, Don­nacha Ryan and Peter O’Ma­hony lead­ing the fight up front will be any­thing less than for­mi­da­ble while this sea­son has seen Conor Mur­ray reach a new ca­reer peak.

Tyler Bleyen­daal has been un­veil­ing his com­plete skillset at ten, Si­mon Zebo and Keith Earls pro­vide the X-fac­tor and un­sung he­roes such as South African mid­field hard­man Jaco Taute, speed­ster Dar­ren Sweet­nam and the phe­nom­e­nally hard-work­ing prop John Ryan are flex­ing their mus­cles. Direc­tor of rugby Rassie Eras­mus and his side­kick Jerry Flan­nery, mean­while, have missed noth­ing and de­serve much praise also.

Mun­ster might win on Satur­day FOR An­thony Fo­ley but it won't be BE­CAUSE of the great man. If they win it will be be­cause of their own Her­culean ef­forts and be­cause they were a bet­ter team than Saracens on the day. It’s worth re­mem­ber­ing that at the end of the pool stages Mun­ster were seeded sec­ond, one place ahead of Saracens. A no­table ef­fort con­sid­er­ing they had both Le­ices­ter and Glas­gow in their group.

The re­cent form line of­fers us few clues. Both qual­i­fied in fine style with just one de­feat at the pool stage while both en­gaged top gear in the quar­ter­fi­nals. Sar­ries bided their time for the first hour against a re­ally good Glas­gow War­riors be­fore blow­ing them away in the fi­nal 20 to win 38-13 while it was al­most a car­bon copy at Thomond where Mun­ster went to work in the clos­ing stages to dis­miss Toulouse 41-16. Classy per­for­mances both. The Saracens back­room staff miss noth­ing and you can be sure their num­ber one mes­sage will be early in­ten­sity and a fast start.

Eng­land weren’t at the races in the open­ing quar­ter when they lost their chance of another Grand Slam while Wasps were dis­man­tled in the first half hour against Le­in­ster in their quar­ter-fi­nal with the match be­ing lost there and then.

It's a dif­fer­ent ball game when you play Ir­ish sides in Ire­land in a match that counts. Its a bat­tle of wills ev­ery bit as much as a rugby match and Saracens need to go into street fighter mode. And that is a fine bal­ance be­cause you also need to play within the laws and keep 15 men on the field.

They need to get on the front foot and put some stick about rather than look to soak up early pres­sure, which ap­peared to be Eng­land and Wasps il­lad­vised ap­proach. Mun­ster, roared on by the Red Army, will want to rip into Saracens from the off and it could be un­set­tling for them and their fans if Saracens launch them­selves out of the blocks and start build­ing an early score.

Easy on pa­per, of course, but dev­il­ishly dif­fi­cult in real­ity. What it needs is for the likes of the ag­gres­sive Maro Itoje and the very phys­i­cal Michael Rhodes to make their big hits and turnovers but to keep on the right side of the law while the broth­ers Vu­nipola must be at their an­i­mated but dis­ci­plined best.

In the backs, the hard hit­ting Owen Far­rell and Brad Bar­ritt must repli­cate that dis­ci­pline and this is not the match for Chris Ash­ton to sud­denly have one of his lapses that land him in trou­ble.

Any­thing less in the open­ing half hour or so will sim­ply not suf­fice. Give this Mun­ster side a 12-15 point start and they will be gone. Saracens must learn from Eng­land and Wasps mis­takes. Equally if Saracens reach the half hour in the lead the smart money will be on them. Both sides are good front run­ners. If they get their noses in front they have the ruth­less­ness and de­fen­sives sys­tems to close out games.

Ag­gres­sive: Maro Itoje must make his big hits

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