Munster second row Paul O’Connell is looking forward to locking horns again with Saracens in round 5 of the European Champions Cup at Allianz Park on Saturday (kick-off 1pm).
No stranger to crucial games like this weekend’s one, Paul O’Connell spoke this week about Munster’s lack of consistency in recent performances and the need for clinical execution of their game-plan in London.
O’Connell and his team-mates beat Saracens 14-3 when the sides met at Thomond Park in October, but Munster are now lying in third spot in Pool 1 following successive defeats to leaders Clermont Auvergne last month.
They know they are in a ‘must-win’ scenario over the next two weekends, with this Saturday’s trip to Saracens followed by a round 6 home date with bottom side Sale Sharks.
“I’m lucky to have been involved in a number of these games. They’re very special games to be involved in for a Munster player and I’m looking forward to it,” said the Limerick man, who has made 81 European appearances to date.
“A game like this lets us know exactly where we are. There’s no ‘if we lose and get a bonus point it’s not the end of the world’. We know heading over to London that we need to get a win. It clarifies the thought process I suppose.
“The inconsistency is frustrating, really, really frustrating. You can’t build on what you’re doing if you’re up one week and down the next. You need to string 80-minute performances together, back to back. That’s what we haven’t done this year but what we need to do from now on.
“Starting with this weekend we need an 80-minute performance, especially against a team like Saracens who have a very competitive record in both Europe and the Aviva Premiership.
“They know how to win big games, they’ve a big tough pack and a lot of line speed so to win away from home against a team like that you need to be emotionally ready to play, but then you also need to be really accurate in what you do.
“Saracens are a serious outfit with the likes Jim Hamilton, Alistair Hargreaves and Kelly Brown – a lot of tall men and very good lineout operators. Their lineout has been excellent. I think they scored three tries off lineouts last weekend (against Gloucester) as well as drawing a lot of penalties off the lineout. It’s a big weapon for them.”
Does the second row stalwart expect the 4G pitch at Allianz Park to be a major influence on the game this weekend?
“Not really when it comes to the lineout. Certainly the bouncing ball might be a little different for the lads, although we’ve trained on 4G a lot recently so they should be well used to it.
“Scrummaging will also be a small bit different, but outside of that what we’ve noticed in training from GPS is that you cover a bit more ground so the games tend to be a little faster. However, it will be the same for them as it is for us.
“The breakdown will be key, it nearly always dictates the winner of games like this – if you can generate quick ball you have more chances of putting teams under pressure, creating opportunities and scoring tries.
“Will the 4G surface contribute to that? It probably will. The faster guys probably enjoy these surfaces more – they play on the top of the ground, as people would say. It’s an interesting challenge for us but it’s nothing new either. We’ve often played Cardiff and trained on the surface so hopefully we should be well prepared.”