Munster winger Simon Zebo says the province will have to recapture their best form if they are to overcome Saracens in round 2 of the European Champions Cup and maintain their winning start to the tournament.
Fresh from their nail-biting sucess against Sale Sharks, Simon Zebo knows the importance of another Pool 1 win this Friday at Thomond Park and the scale of the challenge to achieve such a feat.
“It will be a massive task this week against Sarries. They are on form and beat an impressive Clermont Auvergne side, so we will have to be on our game from the first minute to beat them,” he said.
“It’s a massive game for whoever tops the table going into the Christmas period. I think there will be a massive momentum swing in this group whoever takes it. We need to win this weekend and treat it like a cup final. Nothing less than a win is acceptable.
“We know we have a tough job on our hands but we are excited with the challenge. Sarries have proved that they are probably in the top three or four teams in Europe.
“They are in great form at the moment. It’s going to be a great game, a real physical battle and I’m sure the Thomond Park crowd will get behind us and it will be a great occasion.”
While Saracens may have emerged as one of Europe’s elite forces of late, with semi-final and final appearances in the last two years respectively, Munster do have a history of beating the English club (four wins and one defeat).
Their current head coach Anthony Foley was at number 8 when the province defeated Saracens home and away in the 1999/00 Heineken Cup – they won 35-34 at Vicarage Road before following up with another tight victory in Limerick (31-30).
The Munstermen memorably prevailed by two points in a hard-fought semi-final in 2008 – the year of their last European title success – and two years ago, five Ronan O’Gara penalties were enough to seal a 15-9 home win for the Reds.
But Sarries managed to gain revenge at Vicarage Road the following week, posting a 19-15 victory thanks to a 14-point contribution from the boot of out-half Owen Farrell.
Zebo played in both of those back-to-back clashes in December 2012, as did Saracens’ international wingers Chris Ashton and David Strettle who scored two tries apiece in last week’s 30-23 round 1 triumph over Clermont.
The Corkman has started the season in good try-scoring form too, bagging four in his first six appearances for Munster, and he is well placed to assess the firepower out wide that Saracens possess.
“Ashton and Strettle are very impressive – two great players. We’ll have our work cut out trying to nullify their attack and getting them the ball. But we’ve played them before and kept them quiet at Thomond Park so we will need to do the same thing.
“They’ve got quality all over the park – (Billy) Vunipola, (Charlie) Hodgson who can kick a ball anywhere, and these gamebreakers are from 1 to 15 so we’ll have to be on top of our game.”
Zebo continued: “I’ve had a few chats with Chris Ashton after matches and he seems like a nice guy. I’m sure he is a gentlemen. There’s an unfair perception of him and people don’t like him which is pretty harsh considering he is just playing rugby and enjoying what he does.
“I like to see people play rugby with a smile on their face because that’s why they started to play the game, and why should they change? Hopefully, though, we keep the smile from his face this weekend!”