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Saracens 15 Munster 6
There was no shame in losing to the reigning champions after going toe-to-toe and blow-for-blow in this heavyweight Heineken Champions Cup collision, not least after losing their talismanic captain and key lineout man Peter O’Mahony in the warm-up and three more World Cup players during the game.
Munster resourcefully coped without O’Mahony and then Tadhg Beirne from the 11th minute at lineout time, defended brilliantly and stuck to their running game, albeit making little inroads themselves.
However, all changed, changed utterly, after the all-in scrap which spilled over the advertising hoardings in the 50th minute. Mark McCall has revealed how Saracens sought to copy Munster more than anyone, and here they did so in a way that perhaps not even he had envisaged.
For in many respects, it was the biter being bit. On so many occasions in the past in times of Munster trouble at Thomond Park, a fight would invariably change the mood music. The umbilical cord between team and supporters strengthened, the noise levels rose and the home players were inspired.
This time around, the temperature and intensity of the occasion, on the pitch and in the stands, was ratcheted up after that scrap, and particularly so by Saracens and their supporters. There was a new-found spite and energy to their work in the collisions.
Munster had the momentum at that time, JJ Hanrahan having just kicked them 6-3 ahead, and they were threatening to become only the second side, after Clermont, to beat Saracens in this competition at Allianz Park.
“Whether it was coincidental, I’m not sure, but we certainly played a lot better afterwards,” said Mark McCall, who admitted Saracens were “lucky” that Hanrahan missed the penalty which would have pushed the visitors 9-3 in front after the scrap. Thereafter they were restricted to just moments, the outstanding Jean Kleyn providing a couple of them when winning turnovers with a choke tackle and a lineout steal.
But after last season’s toxic semi-final between the two sides, when Billy Vunipola was the centre of attention, here the moral of the story was not to provoke his brother Mako either.
The two brothers were like men possessed in the final quarter, as Mako came up with a variety of big plays to swing the game Saracens’ way. There was his frog-marching double tackle in tandem with Nick Isiekwe on Tommy O’Donnell when also ripping the ball from him.
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