14th December 2012 16:15
Munster are off to Watford this weekend as they look to complete a December double over Saracens in this top of the table Heineken Cup match-up.
SARACENS (1st) v MUNSTER (2nd), Vicarage Road, 3pm (live Sky Sports 2/HD2/highlights TG4)
Team News: Munster have made just one change for the return game against Saracens at Vicarage Road on Sunday with Casey Laulala coming into the side in place of the injured Keith Earls.
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Earls trained in Limerick on Tuesday but later complained of groin trouble. With the Ireland international being forced out, Laulala resumes the centre partnership he enjoyed with James Downey for the Racing Metro 92 and Edinburgh games earlier in the Heineken Cup.
On Tuesday at the pre-match press conference, Munster head coach Rob Penney had expressed concern over several players, including the versatile Earls.
But there was no further cause for concern after the likes of Simon Zebo, BJ Botha and recent Heineken Cup debutant David O’Callaghan all came through training this morning in Cork.
Luke O’Dea has been withdrawn from the province’s ‘A’ squad for tonight’s British & Irish Cup match against Rotherham Titans at Musgrave Park (kick-off 6.30pm).
Instead, the Shannon clubman will travel to London on Saturday having won a spot on the senior squad’s bench. The round 4 tie marks back rower James Coughlan’s 100th competitive appearance for Munster.
The 32-year-old Coughlan made his debut back in 2006 having been brought into the squad as a development-contracted player by then head coach Declan Kidney.
He again showed his huge worth to Munster with a man-of-the-match display in last Saturday’s round 3 win over Saracens at Thomond Park.
His ball-carrying ability and gobbling up of Sarries’ restarts, allied to his energy and work-rate at the breakdown, left an impression on Penney who beamed afterwards: “I think he was just terrific for us.
“I know there are some great loosies hanging around in Ireland at the moment, but James? We know what his strengths are and he plays to them so well. Jeepers, he would wear the green jersey very, very well.”
Meanwhile, England starlet Owen Farrell will move from outside centre to out-half for Saracens’ home showdown with pool rivals Munster.
Farrell, who kicked Sarries’ nine point in the Limerick tie, will take over from the benched Charlie Hodgson with Richard Wigglesworth replacing Neil de Kock at scrum half.
Joel Tomkins comes in to wear the number 13 jersey alongside Brad Barritt and David Strettle has been preferred to Chris Wyles on the left wing.
In the one personnel change up front, Ernst Joubert makes way for the inclusion of George Kruis in a rejigged back row with Scottish international Kelly Brown moving to number 8.
The hamstring injury that Andy Saull picked up on Monday night in the A-League semi-final rules him out of the matchday 23.
Adam Powell, Jackson Wray, Jacques Burger, former Munster back rower Justin Melck, Alistair Hargreaves and Joe Maddock also miss out through injury.
SARACENS: Alex Goode; Chris Ashton, Joel Tomkins, Brad Barritt, David Strettle; Owen Farrell, Richard Wigglesworth; Rhys Gill, Schalk Brits, Matt Stevens, Steve Borthwick (capt), Mouritz Botha, George Kruis, Will Fraser, Kelly Brown.
Replacements: John Smit, Mako Vunipola, Petrus du Plessis, Eoin Sheriff, Ernst Joubert, Neil de Kock, Charlie Hodgson, Chris Wyles.
MUNSTER: Felix Jones; Doug Howlett (capt), Casey Laulala, James Downey, Simon Zebo; Ronan O’Gara, Conor Murray; David Kilcoyne, Mike Sherry, BJ Botha, Donncha O’Callaghan, Donnacha Ryan, David O’Callaghan, Peter O’Mahony, James Coughlan.
Replacements: Damien Varley, Wian du Preez, Stephen Archer, Billy Holland, Paddy Butler, Duncan Williams, Ian Keatley, Luke O’Dea.
Referee: Jerome Garces (France)
Assistant Referees: Jean-Luc Rebollal, Sebastien Cloute (both France)
Television Match Official: Gerard Borreani (France)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Saracens to win: 8/15; Draw: 20/1; Munster to win: 13/8
Pre-Match Quotes: Rob Penney (Munster) – “The win last week gave us a real opportunity to be masters of our own destiny which is where you want to be. Last weekend’s result was very heartening.
“But Saracens will be very tough this weekend at home. They have a lot of pride. There are some challenges for us in the next match. We are improving and building a bit of confidence too, so there will be fireworks again.
“We have already had some good feedback about last week (and cutting down on penalties). For me it is about approaching this game in a really positive manner with the officials and ensuring they are fully aware of the areas of the game we might have some concerns with.”
Mark McCall (Saracens) – “It’s not often in sport that you get a chance to rectify things that may have gone wrong the week before, but that’s the beauty of these rounds 3 and 4 matches against the same opposition.
“It represents a great opportunity for the squad to put in the kind of performance we know we can deliver.
“We are level on (10) match points and both teams have the chance to take control of the group going into the final two rounds of matches.
“But we have to make sure that our fundamentals and foundations are excellent across the pitch if we are to get the result that we want.”
Current Form – Saracens – (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 40-3 at home to London Irish; Won 23-16 away to Sale Sharks; Drew 9-9 at home to Leicester Tigers; Lost 14-12 away to Exeter Chiefs; Won 18-16 away to Harlequins; Won 28-23 away to London Welsh; (Heineken Cup): Won 45-0 away to Edinburgh; Won 30-13 at home to Racing Metro 92; (Aviva Premiership): Won 16-3 away to Northampton Saints; Won 29-24 at home to London Wasps; (LV= Cup): Won 38-21 at home to Leicester Tigers; Lost 25-23 away to Sale Sharks; (Aviva Premiership): Lost 12-3 away to Worcester Warriors; Won 28-23 at home to Gloucester; (Heineken Cup): Lost 15-9 away to Munster
Munster – (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 23-18 away to Edinburgh; Won 19-6 at home to Benetton Treviso; Lost 20-19 away to Ulster; Won 33-13 at home to the Newport Gwent Dragons; Lost 30-15 away to the Ospreys; Lost 30-21 away to Leinster; (Heineken Cup): Lost 22-17 away to Racing Metro 92; Won 33-0 at home to Edinburgh; (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 29-3 at home to Zebre; Won 24-18 away to the Cardiff Blues; Lost 13-6 at home to the Scarlets; Won 31-3 at home to Glasgow Warriors; (Heineken Cup): Won 15-9 at home to Saracens
Top Scorers – 2012/13 Heineken Cup: Saracens – Points: Charlie Hodgson 40; Tries: Alex Goode, Joel Tomkins, Charlie Hodgson, Owen Farrell, Chris Ashton, Steve Borthwick, Chris Wyles, Will Fraser 1 each; Munster – Points: Ronan O’Gara 20; Tries: Sean Dougall 2
Previous European Meetings: 4
Sunday, November 28, 1999 – Pool 4 – Saracens 34 Munster 35, Vicarage Road
Saturday, January 8, 2000 – Pool 4 – Munster 31 Saracens 30, Thomond Park
Sunday, April 27, 2008 – Semi-final – Saracens 16 Munster 18, Ricoh Arena
Saturday, December 8, 2012 – Pool 1 – Munster 15 Saracens 9, Thomond Park
Match Facts And Figures –
– Saracens out-half Charlie Hodgson has produced the most try-scoring assists so far this season (3)
– Munster have missed only 14 tackles in 240 minutes of Heineken Cup rugby so far this season, fewer than any other team
– Saracens are the only side in the Heineken Cup that average fewer than 10 points conceded per game so far
– Munster’s opponents have averaged 196 metres gained so far this season, wile the province are the only side to limit their opponents to under 200 metres per game
– Saracens have lost all four of their previous Heineken Cup clashes with Munster. However, these games have been settled by margins of one point (twice), two points and six points
Heineken Cup Records:
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
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