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European Champions Cup Preview: Munster v Saracens

European Champions Cup Preview: Munster v Saracens

Munster will aim to wrestle top spot in Pool 1 away from Saracens, last year’s Heineken Cup runners-up, when the two heavyweights slug it out under the Thomond Park floodlights.


MUNSTER (2nd) v SARACENS (1st), Thomond Park, 7.45pm (live BT Sport 2/Newstalk/highlights TG4)

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Team News: As Munster chase their second successive European Champions Cup win, head coach Anthony Foley has made just two changes for Friday’s round 2 showdown with Saracens at Thomond Park.

Both changes come in the front row and see James Cronin and BJ Botha come in at loosehead and tighthead prop respectively, while Duncan Casey remains at hooker.

Following his inclusion in the Ireland squad for the upcoming GUINNESS Series, Dave Foley (pictured below) will start alongside Paul O’Connell in the second row.

In the back row Peter O’Mahony captains the side from blindside flanker with Tommy O’Donnell at openside, and another man-of-the-match performance last weekend sees CJ Stander continue at number 8.

Conor Murray and Ian Keatley combine again at half-back with the centre pairing of Denis Hurley and Andrew Smith remaining intact, while Simon Zebo, Andrew Conway and Felix Jones feature once more in the back-three.

The last remaining tickets can be purchased from €;30 online here, at the Munster Rugby Ticket Offices in Thomond Park and Musgrave Park, or by calling 0818 719300. For now, tickets will be on sale outside the ground on matchday.

While Thomond Park’s new Fan Zone Plaza – the ideal meeting point for fans both pre and post-match – will be open from 5pm on Friday.

Meanwhile, Owen Farrell returns to the Saracens side at out-half, to partner Neil de Kock, as Mark McCall chooses to rotate his half-backs for the trip to Limerick.

Marcelo Bosch replaces Chris Wyles at outside centre to link up with stand-in captain Brad Barritt in the midfield, with Chris Ashton, David Strettle and Alex Goode named in the back-three.

Up front, Richard Barrington, Jamie George and Petrus du Plessis continue in the front row. Regular skipper Alistair Hargreaves is ruled out of the game with a slight knock, so Jim Hamilton comes in to join George Kruis at lock.

In the back row Will Fraser starts at openside flanker, with Kelly Brown and Billy Vunipola named at blindside flanker and number 8 respectively.

MUNSTER: Felix Jones; Andrew Conway, Andrew Smith, Denis Hurley, Simon Zebo; Ian Keatley, Conor Murray; James Cronin, Duncan Casey, BJ Botha, Dave Foley, Paul O’Connell, Peter O’Mahony (capt), Tommy O’Donnell, CJ Stander.

Replacements: Eusebio Guinazu, Dave Kilcoyne, Stephen Archer, Billy Holland, Robin Copeland, Duncan Williams, JJ Hanrahan, Gerhard van den Heever.

SARACENS: Alex Goode; Chris Ashton, Marcelo Bosch, Brad Barritt (capt), David Strettle; Owen Farrell, Neil de Kock; Richard Barrington, Jamie George, Petrus du Plessis, George Kruis, Jim Hamilton, Kelly Brown, Will Fraser, Billy Vunipola.

Replacements: Scott Spurling, Rhys Gill, James Johnston, Mouritz Botha, Jackson Wray, Richard Wigglesworth, Charlie Hodgson, Duncan Taylor.

Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant Referees: Salem Attalah, Mathieu Delpy (both France)
Television Match Official: Eric Gauzins (France)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Munster to win: 4/7; Draw: 20/1; Saracens to win: 7/5

Pre-Match Quotes: Peter O’Mahony (Munster) – “I thought the opening 10 minutes (against Sale), bar the early penalty, was good. I know a lot of people are saying we played poorly, which I would agree with, but I thought Sale played some great rugby.

“Their breakdown was very impressive and we struggled with the way they cleaned out at breakdown. We struggled with their system at times. Credit has to be given to Sale, to be fair.

“We certainly are not happy with it. We had a big review day which was important and we need to learn fast, a six-day turnaround. The problem is we didn’t have any ball and any ball we did get, we ran into touch once, we kicked silly ball away a couple of times and we coughed up ball off first phase three or four times, so if you are going to do that, you can’t argue with anything.

“Saracens are very accurate, a big, powerful, strong team, so if we are going to carry on like that again, we don’t have much of a hope. But I don’t think we will. We had an honest and eager review (on Monday). We want to get back out there and put it right.

“We were aiming for two wins in the first two games. Saracens at home on Friday night is going to be extremely tough, but hopefully it will be another big European Cup game in Thomond Park for us.”

Brad Barritt (Saracens) – “It’s definitely going to be a game that goes down to the wire and we’re going to have to be as clinical as ever – we have to be prepared in every element of our game.

“There’s been a buzz of excitement around the whole squad so far this week. We’ve had a great start to our European campaign and Munster at Thomond Park is a huge opportunity for us to make another memory.

“We talk about going to these historical grounds, places where people have found it very tough to win and we know it’s going to be extremely tough (on Friday), but we’re confident that we can go there and do the job.

“Munster are a team with a wealth of European experience, and a team that are able to consistently work for 80 minutes to achieve the result that they need.”

Current Form – Munster – (GUINNESS PRO12): Lost 14-13 at home to Edinburgh; Won 21-10 away to Benetton Treviso; Won 31-5 at home to Zebre; Lost 19-14 at home to the Ospreys; Won 34-23 away to Leinster; Won 17-6 at home to the Scarlets; (European Champions Cup): Won 27-26 away to Sale Sharks

Saracens – (Aviva Premiership): Won 34-28 at home to Wasps; Won 39-0 away to Harlequins; Won 36-32 away to London Irish; Won 40-19 at home to Sale Sharks; Lost 21-11 away to Bath; Won 28-21 at home to Gloucester; (European Champions Cup): Won 30-23 at home to Clermont Auvergne

Top Scorers – 2014/15 European Champions Cup: Munster – Points: Ian Keatley 12; Tries: Dave Kilcoyne, Andrew Conway, Conor Murray 1 each; Saracens – Points: Charlie Hodgson, Chris Ashton, David Strettle 10 each; Tries: Chris Ashton, David Strettle 2 each

Previous European Meetings: 5

Sunday, December 16, 2012 – Pool 1 – Saracens 19 Munster 13, Vicarage Road
Saturday, December 8, 2012 – Pool 1 – Munster 15 Saracens 9, Thomond Park
Sunday, April 27, 2008 – Semi-final – Saracens 16 Munster 18, Ricoh Arena
Saturday, January 8, 2000 – Pool 4 – Munster 31 Saracens 30, Thomond Park
Sunday, November 28, 1999 – Pool 4 – Saracens 34 Munster 35, Vicarage Road

Match Facts –

– Munster have won four of the five matches between the teams in Europe and in those five games, Munster (112) have scored just four points more than Saracens (108)

– The last time the two sides met was in Pool 1 of the Heineken Cup in 2012/13 – both games were won by the home side by a margin of six points

– This fixture will be Munster’s 140th game in Europe’s top flight – they have won 98 of the previous 139

– CJ Stander was the only player to make over 100 metres in last weekend’s Champions Cup games (105)

– After the opening weekend of fixtures, Saracens are the only club to have two players at the top of the try-scoring charts with David Strettle and Chris Ashton joined by five other players on two tries

Ian Keatley’s 12 points against Sale Sharks saw him become Munster’s second highest points scorer in Europe with 123

– Saracens conceded their 100th try in Europe’s top flight last weekend against Clermont Auvergne, but have scored 164 themselves

– Chris Ashton’s two tries last weekend pushed him up to joint-sixth in the all-time top try scorers for Europe’s leading club tournament with 25

– Munster’s 27 points last weekend against Sale Sharks took them over the 3,500 point mark in the top flight (3,517)

European Cup Records:

Munster –
2013/14: Reached the semi-finals
2012/13: Reached the semi-finals
2011/12: Reached the quarter-finals
2010/11: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
2009/10: Reached the semi-finals
2008/09: Reached the semi-finals
2007/08: Champions
2006/07: Reached the quarter-finals
2005/06: Champions
2004/05: Reached the quarter-finals
2003/04: Reached the semi-finals
2002/03: Reached the semi-finals
2001/02: Runners-up
2000/01: Reached the semi-finals
1999/00: Runners-up
1998/99: Reached the quarter-finals
1997/98: Failed to qualify from Pool D
1996/97: Failed to qualify from Pool D
1995/96: Failed to qualify from Pool D

Saracens –
2013/14: Runners-up
2012/13: Reached the semi-finals
2011/12: Reached the quarter-finals
2010/11: Failed to qualify from Pool 2
2007/08: Reached the semi-finals
2005/06: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2000/01: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
1999/00: Failed to qualify from Pool 4