Saracens are the benchmark Munster seek to be.
Last Saturday, despite their greatest efforts, Munster were unable to stall the Saracens juggernaut that just keeps rolling on. The English outfit displayed an immersive defensive effort coupled with an ability to bludgeon scores when needed.
Munster simply had no answer. The statistic of having almost 65% of the ball in the first half, the bulk of territory advantage and still coming in three points down spoke volumes about Munster’s inability to offer a penetrating threat.
It was the clash of the two best defences in the competition but it was Saracens ability to break the gain line that was the crucial aspect of their play. For Munster the game serves as a stern lesson in where improvements are needed for next year and if Erasmus can keep this side on the trajectory they are heading on, then have no doubt that Munster will be challenging for this competition again.
Saracens had a clear edge in most departments but Munster didn’t help themselves. Some terrible box kicking and restarts were handing momentum right back to Sarries. Inevitably every restart and kick found Mako Vunipola who was simply unstoppable.
Munster gained an early lead, courtesy of the boot of Bleyendaal and despite holding over two-thirds of the possession in the first half, there were some worrying signs heading into the break. Saracens had barely attempted to shift out of first gear.
Instead they were happy to defend and soak up wave after wave of Munster attack. By half-time, Saracens knew that Munster had exerted their greatest force. Were it not for two uncharacteristic handling errors, the game could have been over by the half-time whistle.
When the Sarries arrived back out on the field, their game was filled with more intent. After soaking up so much Munster pressure, they began to inflict damage on the Munster rear guard.
When they went direct they made gains and when Mako Vunipola notched the first try to put the champions up 13-3, Munster fans were fearing the worst.
Munster refused to give in but in the end were totally outclassed and eventually succumbed on a 26-10 score line that could have been more convincing had Saracens been a bit more clinical.
The kicking game was not up to scratch and the men in red simply didn’t have a plan B. Indeed this was something Simon Zebo touched on this post game,
“You know we probably didn’t adapt on time on the pitch and that is probably a learning experience for us as a whole as a squad. We have the other strings to our bow, I am fully convinced of it and we probably just didn’t adapt to it on the time on the pitch and that is the way it goes.”
Rory Scannell was always a willing outlet for Munster, but he was not afforded any time or space to exploit a gap. Jaco Taute tirelessly battered the attacking line but was found little success.
There were calls for Munster to put more with on the ball but Williams was finding it difficult at the base of the ruck and Saracens were causing huge problems for Munster at the breakdown with some savage counter rucking.
After the game, John Ryan said:
“Where we are now is probably where Saracens were five years ago. We need to make sure we are back here again next year and keep closing that gap until we get a bit of silverware, That’s what we need. That’s what we want and that’s what Munster have always done in the past.”
The great hope for Munster however, is Rassie Erasmus. The work the South African has done this season is incredible and having signalled his intention to stay, it seems to be a bit of really great news on an otherwise disappointing weekend.
Erasmus is charged with this project and he will not be satisfied until Munster are a great force in Europe once more. For now though, he is happy with Munster’s progress,
“If we’ve come this far in nine, 10 months? If you go back and see how far Saracens came in eight, nine, 10 months when they were starting out, I think we’re pretty much really close to where we want to be,”
While Saracens are 6-7 years into their project, Munster’s is still in its infancy. Saracens have reached the semi-final stage of European’s premier rugby competition 5 years on the bounce which is a staggering achievement.
The current champions are the benchmark. Munster have seen it up close and personal and must do what they can to ensure they reach that mark in the near future.