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No Margin For Error

December 8, 2012 12:00 am By Munster Rugby

Three points adrift of this evening’s opponents and with a trip to Vicarage Road to follow leaves no margin for error for Munster this evening when they play Saracens at what will be a packed Thomond Park Stadium(6pm).

And not for the first time in the history of this competition Munster find themselves with their backs against the wall. And not for the first time it's against an English side who arrive with a massive reputation and a fully laden cargo of intent.

But in many ways this game has resonances with the time Munster first tackled sarries back in 1999. The English club then had the marquee names such as Thierry Lacrox, Roberto Grau, Scott Murray, led by Francois Pieenar with the equally brilliant Richard Hill alongside him in the back row.

The South African influence has grown to an extraordinary extent thanks to the deep pockets of the Londonclub and its that high veldt spine that makes them such a potent outfit, so potent in fact that they believe they can afford to leave John Smit on the bench and then drop English international David Strettle just hours after naming him on the starting XV.

So now the Munster youngsters of '99 are the veterans of today's side and the likes of Ronan O'Gara and Donncha O'Callaghan must do for the Zebos, Kilcoynes et al what the Claw and Gaillimh did for them back in the day.

It's set to be a cracker and a decisive point in deciding the destiny of either side and if Munster are in touch as they turn into the straight, then we could see the English favourites in a degree of bother.

Munster: F Jones; D Howlett capt, K Earls, J Downey, S Zebo; R O'Gara, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, M Sherry, BJ Botha; D O'Callaghan, D Ryan; Dave O'Callaghan, P O'Mahony, J Coughlan. Replacements:  D Varley, W du Preez, S Archer, B Holland, P Butler, D Williams, I Keatley, C Laulala.

Saracens: A Goode; C Ashton, O Farrell, B Barritt, C Wyles; C Hodgson, N de Kock; R Gill, S Brits, M Stevens; S Borthwick capt, M Botha; K Brown, W Fraser, Ernst Joubert. Replacements: John Smit, Mako Vunipola, Petrus du Plessis, George Kruis, Andy Saull, Richard Wigglesworth, Joel Tomkins, David Strettle.

Referee: Pascal Gauzere (France)

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Munster Show Their Gritty Side

December 10, 2012 12:00 am By Munster Rugby

A marvellous commitment and work ethic and superb game managment and unerring boot of the maestro Ronan O’Gara saw Munster defeat Saracens 15-9 at a packed and noisy Thomond Park Stadium on Saturday evening.

And while O'Gara's old buddy Donncha O'Callaghan also put in a mighty shift along with the outstanding James Coughlan and Doug Howlett led by brave example, it was the new generation, players with little enough Heineken Cup experience, who helped enormously in getting Munster over the line in what was a bruisingly physical encounter.

Starting in his first Heineken Cup game, Dave O'Callaghan had a great game and a massive influence. So too did Peter O'Mahony, Dave Kilcoyne and Mike Sherry while the spirit and determination of the entire squad was probably best illustrated by Simon Zebo's tackle on Will Fraser in the right hand corner early in the second half.

But this wasn't all about grim Munster defence. They had two good try scoring opportunities in the opening half the best of them when Conor Murray left Saracens defenders for dead and just failed to connect to Zebo metres short of the line.

And Munster ended that half with O'Gara just missing with a drop goal attempt that would have left his side 12 rather than 9-3 in front.

Try scoring opportunities were always going to be as rare as hen's teeth and so it came down to the battle of the boot and that was won emphatically by O'Gara. He kicked three in the opening half, two more in the second while Owen Farrell could only manage two from six.

And so Munster now head for Vicarage Road and another huge test. The very definite noise emanating from the Sarries dressing room post match was that they'd somehow underperformed and that their expected improvement would take care of the Munster challenge next Sunday in London.

Munster: F Jones; D Howlett (capt), K Earls, J Downey, S Zebo; R O'Gara, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, M Sherry, BJ Botha; D O'Callaghan, D Ryan; D O'Callaghan, P O'Mahony, J Coughlan. Replacements : P Butler for Dave O'Callaghan (62 mins), W du Preez for D Kilcoyne, D Varley for M Sherry, C Laulala for F Jones (all 66 mins), I Keatley for S Zebo (74 mins).

Saracens: A Goode: C Ashton, O Farrell, B Barritt, D Strettle; C Hodgson, N de Kock; R Gill, S Brits, M Stevens; S Borthwick (capt), M Botha; K Brown, W Fraser, E Joubert. Replacements : M Vunipola for W Fraser (temp, 21 – 30), M Vunipola for R Gill, R Wigglesworth for N de Kock (both 50 mins), D Strettle for C Hodgson (57 mins), G Kruis for M Botha, J Smit for S Brits (both 59 mins), A Saul for W Fraser (64 mins). Sin bin : Donncha O'Callaghan and Rhys Gill (20-30 mins)

Referee: P Gauzere (France).

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