England agony will spur on Saracens

Fri, 21 Apr 2017 13:51
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CHAMPIONS CUP SPOTLIGHT: Saracens boss Mark McCall believes the Grand Slam heartache several of his side suffered playing for England in Dublin, will benefit the London team come Saturday's European Champions Cup semi-final in the Irish capital.

Title-holders Saracens will be taking part in their fifth successive major European last-four clash when they face two-time continental champions, Munster.

The likes of Owen Farrell, Billy Vunipola and Maro Itoje will hope to enjoy success with Saracens at Lansdowne Road a few weeks on from being involved in England's 9-13 defeat by Ireland at the ground, a loss that denied the visitors back-to-back Grand Slams.

Irish province Munster will have the bulk of the crowd behind them but McCall is confident his side can retain their composure in a quest to reach next month's Murrayfield final against the winners of Sunday's clash between Clermont and Leinster in Lyon.

"We are accustomed to these occasions. The fact some of our English players were at the Lansdowne Road a few weeks ago is a good thing. The players won't be surprised by what is waiting, albeit it will be a very special atmosphere," said McCall.

London club Saracens, also the reigning English champions, has plenty of experience of knockout rugby.

"We've got a group who know they can rely on each other and if it's 40,000 Munster men and us, then we will back each other. These occasions bring out the best in the group," he added.

All six Saracens selected in the British and Irish Lions squad announced Wednesday for the tour of New Zealand - Farrell, Billy Vunipola, George Kruis, Itoje, Jamie George and Mako Vunipola - will start against Munster.

But Munster scrumhalf Conor Murray remains out with the shoulder/neck problem that sidelined the Lions call-up since he was injured playing for Ireland in a Six Nations defeat by Wales on March 10.  

Fellow Lions CJ Stander and Peter O'Mahony will take the field as Munster look to get to a European Final for the first time since 2008.

"Munster are an unbelievably well-organised side. They have the best defensive record in the Pro12 and the Champions Cup. They are hard to break down," McCall said.

The past two seasons have seen Munster suffer pool stages exits, with their 2014/15 European campaign featuring a 10-33 group phase defeat by Saracens. But this term, following the shock death of coach Anthony Foley on the eve of a pool match in Paris in October, their European fortunes have been transformed.

"We always pride ourselves on how we do in Europe and we let ourselves down over the past couple of years. But we have a different group now and we are a different animal. We've learnt a lot of lessons and we now go about our business in a different way," said Munster captain O'Mahony.

Agence France-Presse

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