Round four or as I like to call it ‘the put up or shut up’ round; a round where the vanquished round three teams have the perfect opportunity to right the wrongs of last week this weekend.
For Munster Rugby, they travel to London and the Allianz Park to face a Saracens side who have decided that the time is now to call in the reinforcements. A daunting ask but is there hope for the Irish province? Hawkeye Sidekick looks at the fixture.
There was precious little surprise in the Munster Rugby twenty-three man squad announced today. With the suspension of Arno Botha, Tommy O’Donnell comes onto the bench where he will be joined by Stephen Archer as John Ryan comes into the front. John Ryan wins his 150th cap for the province, a superb milestone. The rest of the side is unchanged.
For Saracens, just the twelve changes from the side that secured a loser point at rain soaked, windswept Thomond Park last weekend. Mark McCall names a side loaded with quality. Owen Farrell captains the side and is joined by marquee names like Mako and Billy Vunipola, Jamie George, Eliot Day. The list goes on.
The absentees this week for Saracensis also noteworthy. The second row is completely replaced so no Maro Itoje or Nick Skelton who provided intensity, physicality and set piece nous last weekend.
A glimmer of hope for Munster Rugby is negated by the return of George Kruis in the front five; a massively underrated player who can call an effective line out.
Where this game is won?
The set piece is an area of concern personally for Munster Rugby. The line out in particular in recent weeks has been far more efficient; rather tentative and indecisive with the unforced error thrown in for good measure.
Saracens coughed up their fair share of line out ball last weekend surprisingly but with Jamie George throwing this week, line out steals for Munster Rugby look quite remote.
The scrum for Munster Rugby went well but here comes the problem. A net new Saracens front row, refreshed and raring to go. How Cronin and Ryan deal with the threat of Vunipola and Koch in the early exchanges could fundamentally decide the flow of this contest? Early set piece dominance for the hosts and this becomes forlorn quite quickly for Munster Rugby.
The half back display on Saturday is an area of play I am interested to see. Murray and Hanrahan have struggled for fluency and cohesion in recent cup rounds but this weekend potentially could be when they click and unleash an exciting back line who will be eager to test out a Saracens back line minus the hugely influential Brad Barritt.
Murray has had the negative vibes from social media in recent weeks but my question to those folks is who would you put instead of him minus now the services of Alby? McCarthy unproven. Cronin solid but unproven at this level of competition. Casey has potential but is returning from injury.
Murray will rise to the occasion. JJ must follow suit. Vary the game plan and kick game and Munster Rugby have a chance.
Saracens have named a strong side. Munster Rugby and their opening quarter display will dictate how this game goes. The 4G pitch will pose issues for Munster Rugby; tempo will be fast and furious plus there is the issue of quicker defensive resets given expected quicker fast ruck ball on offer here compared to last weekend.
A loser point is the minimum requirement for Munster Rugby this weekend. Saracens with the likes of Farrell and Daly in the ranks will make some big plays but Munster Rugby need to be resilient and composed. I sense a good performance from the visitors this weekend and renewed focus on performance given the personnel named by Saracens.
Provided that Munster Rugby execute well, there should be areas where they could ask serious questions of Saracens. The back line for Saracens potentially may be lacking cohesion early. The front five readjustments as well could provide opportunities. Saracens are favored here and duly so but Munster Rugby can leave Allianz Park with a loser point at least.