Mako Vunipola Champions Saracens provide litmus test for new Munster

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Champions Cup: Saracens v Munster

Kick-off:3pm.Venue:Allianz Park.How to follow:The Irish Times liveblog will begin from 2.30pm.On TV:Live on BT Sport.

Munster have emerged from their two home clashes with the two sides who have beaten them in the last three seasons at the semi-final stage unbeaten, which is no mean feat. Alas, it still looks inadequate as things stand.

Munster could easily be sitting atop the group. No-one did more to salvage an unlikely draw for them against Racing than JJ Hanrahan, but had his attempted drop goal sealed the win they’d be sitting atop the pool now on 13 points, two points ahead of Racing instead of one behind them, and seven ahead of Saracens on six points.

Alternatively, had they been a little more clinical when playing with the best of the weather in the first half last week against Saracens, and so denied them a losing bonus point, they’d have a six-point buffer over Saracens instead of five.

Hence, it is a measure of this pool’s competitiveness that Munster’s return of six match points from those two games, while conceding two to Racing and one to Saracens, that it has left them with plenty more to do, starting with Saturday’s imposing visit to the damaged and disliked, but still reigning, champions.

What’s more, that losing bonus point in Thomond Park with a side missing many of their front-liners has kept Saracens interested. As he intimated he would, in again rotating his squad and making a dozen changes in personnel to his starting lineup, Mark McCall has sacrificed one World Cup starter in Maro Itoje, but recalled his others in Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, George Kruis, Billy Vunipola, Elliot Daly and captain Owen Farrell, as well as Scottish winger Sean Maitland and scrumhalf Richard Wigglesworth.

Fullback Max Malins and lock Joel Kpoku will both start a Champions Cup game for the first time.

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