A VALIANT effort from the men in red but at this level, valiant efforts are really not worth the sweat the players shed in obtaining them.
At this stage in the tournament, the only thing that truly matters is points in the bag and unfortunately, Munster didn’t manage to acquire any.
In the closing stages of the game, Munster were awarded a penalty and had an opportunity to reduce the lead to just six points. Should they have opted for the shot at goal and been successful, they would have left London with a losing bonus point. For some very strange reason they kicked to the corner and failed to turn the territory gained into any kind of score.
Indeed, bonus point or not, it is now looking very likely that Munster are going to need two wins from their final two games. One of those is an away trip to Paris where they will play Racing 92, who are virtually unbeatable at home.
When this Saracens team was announced, not many gave Munster any hope of winning but like the true warriors they are, the players refused to bow down and let the star-studded Londoners walk all over them.
The loss of Peter O’Mahony during the warm-up (groin) and Tadhg Beirne after only 10 minutes with a possible leg break didn’t exactly help matters. Their replacements, Jack O’Donoghue and Tommy O’Donnell had fine games and Johann van Graan will take some solace from their outstanding work ethic.
John Ryan was also forced from the field in the first half and, early in the second half Andrew Conway failed a HAI assessment and had to be replaced by the ever-improving Dan Goggin.
When the odds are already stacked against you long before a ball is kicked and then you have to deal with a raft of early injuries, you just know its not going to be your day.
If Munster were ever going to upset the current champions, they would have had to have played at their optimum level whilst hoping the rub of the green was also going to go their way.
Clearly having done their homework, van Graan and his coaching ticket built their strategy for this game around pressurising Saracens with an incredibly fast and aggressive rush defence. This was done with the hope of stopping the rampaging forwards from building up any kind of momentum.
When you have players like Billy and Mako Vunipola, Joel Kpoku and George Kruis hurtling towards you, the only way that you might stop them from winning the gain-line is by meeting them before they can build up momentum.
I don’t think anyone could fault the Munster efforts in trying to repel the home side’s juggernaut however, it is impossible to sustain this kind of defensive intensity for a full 80 minutes and the dam was always going to crack as soon as Saracens started to introduce the fresh legs from their substitution bench.
Eventually, the Munster line was crossed after a bit of sublime passing from Billy Vunipola when he attracted the attention of three Munster defenders and somehow managed to get the ball away to Sean Maitland, who crossed in the corner. Six minutes later Billy’s brother Mako Vunipola dotted down himself and the game was as good as over.
It was shortly after this that Munster had the option to take a shot at goal from a penalty and despite van Graan defending his players’ choice in his post-match interview, it was 100% incorrect.
Munster would still have had five minutes to orchestrate a try-scoring opportunity in order to win the game and when there is only one score in the difference, anything can happen.
As a spectacle the game was dull and didn’t offer much in terms of entertainment value until, there was an all-in, good auld fashioned punch up. This was apparently sparked by a comment from one of the Munster medical team when he got into a verbal spat with the Saracens hooker Jamie George.
The incident saw the hosts suddenly burst into life, producing some powerful line breaks that led to both of their tries.
The decision to replace scrum-half Conor Murray with Nick McCarthy with 15 minutes still showing on the clock will have the cynics chatting about Murray’s future in the green jersey. This is not the first time that Murray has been called ashore with the game still very much in the balance. He is a confidence player and these early showers will not be good for his head.
Van Graan has now four weeks before the Racing 92 game but before he can even start to worry about that, he must navigate through some very turbulent Guinness Pro 14 games.
With a very lengthy injury list curtailing his options, van Graan must now try to piece together teams to compete against Connacht (A), Leinster (H) and Ulster (A), all of whom are playing some sublime rugby. The Leinster game in Thomond Park on the 28th of this month is already a sell out and the South African will be under immense pressure to field his strongest possible team for that game.
The point that Saracens took away from their loss in Limerick and the one that Munster failed to obtain on Saturday might just be the determining factors in this year’s European crusade.
Considering their new and very much unfamiliar style of play, Munster are still a good two years away from winning silverware.
Rome was simply not built in a day and the gap between Munster and the better sides in Europe is still a very wide gorge that will need some very arduous traversing.