European Champions Cup title holders Saracens beat Munster in semis

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Dublin (AFP) – Owen Farrell insisted Saracens could be “more clinical” after the title-holders beat Munster 26-10 in a commanding European Champions Cup semi-final win in Dublin on Saturday.

Second-half tries from Mako Vunipola and replacement back Chris Wyles capped a brilliant defensive effort, with England ace Farrell scoring the London club’s remaining 16 points in a flawless goalkicking display.

Irish province Munster, whose fans turned a capacity Lansdowne Road crowd of more than 51,000 into a sea of red, pressed hard in the first half.

Yet an early Tyler Bleyendaal penalty was all they had to show for their efforts.

Saracens then scored 26 unanswered points before Ireland back-row CJ Stander grabbed Munster’s lone try in the last minute.

Even when Saracens flanker Jackson Wray was sin-binned midway through the first half, Munster could not find a way through.

Instead it was Saracens, also the reigning English champions and bidding for a ‘double Double’, who led 6-3 at the break.

Either side of half-time Saracens’ Richard Wigglesworth and George Kruis both squandered potential tries for Saracens against a Munster side that had conceded just five in the tournament this season prior to Saturday’s match.  

“We can probably be a bit more clinical — as you saw we left a few tries out there,” Farrell told reporters.

Only last month Farrell and several of his Saracens team-mates had been on the losing side at Lansdowne Road when Ireland scuppered England’s hopes of a second straight Grand Slam with a 13-9 win in the Six Nations.

– ‘Big game occasion’ –

“It is a different experience –- it is a different team for a start,” said Farrell.

“The thing to take from it is the big game occasion and I thought we were good at that today (Saturday).

“The thing about this team is we have been together a good while now and we have had these experiences before –- good and bad -– and we have learnt from that,” he explained after Saracens equalled Leinster’s tournament record of 17 successive unbeaten matches.

That two-time former champions Munster, after some lean seasons in Europe, re-established themselves as a major force in the competition this term was all the more remarkable given the shock death of coach Anthony Foley, 42, on the eve of a pool match in Paris in October.

But all the raw emotion behind them was not enough to dethrone Saracens and Munster director of rugby Rassie Erasmus had no complaints about Saturday’s result.

“We played against a team that were better than us,” he said. “That’s the reality.”

The South African could only watch as Saracens soaked up everything Munster threw at them and then, with a powerful scrum led by prop Vincent Koch taking its toll, struck in the second half.

“That’s the way Saracens play,” said Erasmus. “Not just applying pressure but absorbing pressure and finishing you off in the last 15 or 20 minutes. 

“That’s been the storyline this season against all teams and they did the same against us.”

But he was confident Munster would be a better side for this defeat.

“There is a saying in South Africa that a diamond gets formed from coal when it is under pressure. 

“I just think you have to get through weeks like this and it takes time.”

Saracens will now play the winners of Sunday’s match between French side Clermont, twice losing finalists but yet to be crowned kings of Europe and three-time champions Leinster.

“Clermont have been there and there for years and you think it is going to happen for them at some point,” said Saracens boss Mark McCall.

But the former Ireland centre has also been impressed by Leinster’s resurgence and the part played by former England coach Stuart Lancaster.

“Their improvement from last year in Europe has been extraordinary… They seem to have a real confidence in the organisation and obviously Stuart Lancaster has made a massive difference.”

Saracens’ players celebrate as Mako Vunipola scores the first try during their rugby union European Champions Cup semi-final match against Munster, at the Aviva stadium in Dublin, on April 22, 2017
Copyright AFP Paul Faith
Saracens’ Chris Wyles (L) celebrates with Owen Farrell after scoring a try during their rugby union European Champions Cup semi-final match against Munster, at the Aviva stadium in Dublin, on April 22, 2017
Copyright AFP Paul Faith
Saracens’ Chris Wyles pushes over the line to score the teams’ second try during their rugby union European Champions Cup semi-final match against Munster, at the Aviva stadium in Dublin, on April 22, 2017
Copyright AFP Paul Faith