It is win or bust for two-time European champions Munster as they look to return to winning ways against Pool 1 rivals Saracens and stay in the hunt for a place in the European Champions Cup knockout stages.
EUROPEAN CHAMPIONS CUP POOL 1: Saturday, January 17
SARACENS (2nd) v MUNSTER (3rd), Allianz Park, 1pm (live BT Sport 1/Newstalk/highlights TG4)
Team News: Munster head coach Anthony Foley has named his team for Saturday’s European Champions Cup showdown with Saracens at Allianz Park. He has made eight changes to the side that started against Zebre last weekend.
After meeting with the specialist for a neck injury sustained against Zebre, Conor Murray was ruled out of selection for this weekend’s round 5 encounter and the scrum half will be reviewed further after the weekend.
With Murray not available, Duncan Williams comes in to make his first European start, while Dave O’Callaghan and Keith Earls are named in a European matchday squad for the first time this season.
Further changes to the back-line see Denis Hurley return to partner Pat Howard in midfield and Andrew Conway (pictured below) rejoins Simon Zebo and Felix Jones in the back-three.
A clean sweep of changes are made in the front row with James Cronin and BJ Botha packing down either side of Duncan Casey at loosehead and tighthead prop respectively.
In the second row Paul O’Connell returns to partner Dave Foley, while in the back row captain Peter O’Mahony reverts back to the blindside flanker berth, Tommy O’Donnell comes in at openside and CJ Stander continues at number 8.
Should they make an appearance from the bench this weekend, Earls will win his 100th cap for the province and Ronan O’Mahony will make his European debut.
Meanwhile, Scotland international Kelly Brown will make his 100th Saracens appearance from blindside flanker on Saturday, lining up alongside Jacques Burger and Billy Vunipola in the back row.
Alistair Hargreaves will captain Sarries from the second row where he is partnered by Jim Hamilton. Up front, Mako Vunipola starts at loosehead prop, with Jamie George at hooker and Petrus Du Plessis named at tighthead prop.
Owen Farrell starts at out-half and is partnered by Richard Wigglesworth at half-back. England international Brad Barritt returns to the side at inside centre and lines up alongside Argentina’s Marcelo Bosch.
The back-three has a very settled look to it with full-back Alex Goode joined by wingers Chris Ashton and David Strettle, who are Saracens’ joint-top try scorers in Europe this season with two tries each.
SARACENS: Alex Goode; Chris Ashton, Marcelo Bosch, Brad Barritt, David Strettle; Owen Farrell, Richard Wigglesworth; Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Petrus du Plessis, Jim Hamilton, Alistair Hargreaves (capt), Kelly Brown, Jacques Burger, Billy Vunipola.
Replacements: Brett Sharman, Richard Barrington, James Johnston, Maro Itoje, Ernst Joubert, Neil de Kock, Charlie Hodgson, Chris Wyles.
MUNSTER: Felix Jones; Andrew Conway, Pat Howard, Denis Hurley, Simon Zebo; Ian Keatley, Duncan Williams; James Cronin, Duncan Casey, BJ Botha, Dave Foley, Paul O’Connell, Peter O’Mahony (capt), Tommy O’Donnell, CJ Stander.
Replacements: Eusebio Guinazu, John Ryan, Stephen Archer, Billy Holland, Dave O’Callaghan, Ronan O’Mahony, JJ Hanrahan, Keith Earls.
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant Referees: Christophe Berdos, Tual Trainini (both France)
Television Match Official: Eric Gauzins (France)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Saracens to win: 4/11; Draw: 20/1; Munster to win: 2/1
Pre-Match Quotes: Peter O’Mahony (Munster) – “I’d say a lot of fellas react differently (in the build-up to such a big game). I’d say we’d probably be a little bit more difficult to live with. Crankier is a way to put it, but it’s a good sign I suppose.
“Pressure’s a good thing, especially putting it on yourself. It’s important. A fear factor, and all these things, come into play. It’s a cup final game for us. We lose and we’re out. You can compare it to any of the knockouts. It’s international level. It’s win or bust.
“I’ve never played on one (a 4G pitch) to be honest, so I can’t really comment. I’ve only trained on one. The boys speak very highly of the one in Cardiff. It’s a factor we can’t control.
“We’ve trained on the pitch down below (UL) a couple of times but I think it will probably be a little bit quicker, obviously the weather doesn’t affect it so from a forwards point of view not much is going to change.
“I don’t think we’ll be going very far from where we were. It’s cup rugby and we’re not going changing the wheel for this week. We have to be better than we were over the last few weeks.
“There are small things which are still relevant from that night (against Saracens at Thomond Park in October). But we have more focus on their last few games reviewing them.”
Owen Farrell (Saracens) – “We’re in a good place. We’ve done all our prep, done everything we can do to get ourselves ready for Saturday and now it’s all about getting excited for the game.
“They are a big game team. Not only do they only play well in the PRO12, they get up for games like this. Munster bring a different kind of intensity to Europe and the big games that they play in.
“They have a lot of people involved (at the province) from the local area, and have a lot of people who care about the team and it shows when they play games like this. It’s a massive occasion.
“We’ve obviously got our detail that we have to focus on. We have a plan like we do every week so it’s about us getting to know that plan inside-out, so we can concentrate on bringing as much intensity to the game.”
Current Form – 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; Lost 14-3 away to Munster; (LV= Cup): Won 25-20 at home to Harlequins; Won 21-9 away to the Ospreys; (Aviva Premiership): Drew 21-21 away to Leicester Tigers; Lost 31-24 at home to Northampton Saints; Lost 27-19 away to Exeter Chiefs; (European Champions Cup): Won 19-15 away to Sale Sharks; Won 28-15 at home to Sale Sharks; (Aviva Premiership): Won 78-7 at home to London Welsh; Won 25-23 away to Newcastle Falcons; Won 22-6 at home to London Irish; Lost 24-23 away to Gloucester
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; Won 14-3 at home to Saracens; (GUINNESS PRO12): Won 28-24 away to Cardiff Blues; Won 38-12 away to the Newport Gwent Dragons; Won 21-20 at home to Ulster; (European Champions Cup): Lost 16-9 at home to Clermont Auvergne; Lost 26-19 away to Clermont Auvergne; (GUINNESS PRO12): Lost 21-18 away to Glasgow Warriors; Won 28-13 at home to Leinster; Lost 24-16 away to Connacht; Won 31-7 away to Zebre
Top Scorers – 2014/15 European Champions Cup: Saracens – Points: Owen Farrell 27; Tries: Chris Ashton, David Strettle, Billy Vunipola 2 each; Munster – Points: Ian Keatley 44; Tries: Dave Kilcoyne 2
Previous European Meetings: 6
Friday, October 24, 2014 – Pool 1 – Munster 14 Saracens 3, Thomond Park
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 –
– After their win earlier in the pool stages, Munster have now got the better of Saracens on five of the six occasions that they have met
– The last meeting between the sides brought the largest winning margin between the two (11 points), before that the average winning margin had been just three points
– Saracens’ Jamie George is the tournament’s top tackler this season, missing just two of his 60 attempted tackles
– Saracens, along with Harlequins, have allowed the fewest clean breaks in the tournament, conceding just 14 in the tournament so far
– Munster can claim their 100th win in the European Cup if they manage to beat Saracens. Toulouse, who managed their 100th win in the third round, are the only team to win a century of games
European Cup Records:
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
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
2006/07: Reached the quarter-finals
2004/05: Reached the quarter-finals
2003/04: Reached the semi-finals
2002/03: Reached the semi-finals
2000/01: Reached the semi-finals
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