Sarries to repel Red Army
Defeat for Munster in Pool 1 will see the two-time champions and beaten semi-finalists for the past two seasons bow out before the knockout stages for only the second time in 16 years.
Saracens, on the other hand, know there is no margin for error as any slip up here will require an away win at fortress Marcel-Michelin in their final pool encounter next weekend.
In short, something has to give.
Make no mistake, this is the tie of the round with last year’s beaten finalists Saracens holding all the aces with a one-point – and crucially home – advantage over their Irish rivals.
Sarries have done all that has been asked of them, with defeat at Thomond Park in round two their only reversal to date. They are a tough nut to crack at home, having won 29 of the 32 games they have played on their artificial pitch at Allianz Park.
Munster have failed to fully convince this season. However, they still lie second in the PRO12 and somehow preserved their interest in the Champions Cup despite going down twice to pool leaders Clermont in the back-to-back fixtures over Christmas, rallying for a losing bonus-point in the Auvergne when looking dead and buried.
Keith Earls made a welcome return for Anthony Foley’s side last weekend, when making his first appearance of the season, but even the great Paul O’Connell admits their chances are ‘probably slim’ here.
Mark McCall’s men will certainly miss the ball-carrying skills of the injured Schalk Brit, while out-half Owen Farrell’s form has been patchy at best. However, they have been boosted by the return of Brad Barritt, who has not featured since sustaining a calf injury on England duty in November.
Munster defeated Sarries in October on a scoreline of 14-3 and will hope to replicate the tight, power game they successfully employed that night if they are to triumph here. It’s backs to the walls stuff – would Munster have it any other way? – but Sarries are battle-hardened enough in this competition at this stage to withstand another spirited Munster effort and are available on the handicap (-6.5) at 10/11 to prevail.
The match kicks off at 1pm on Saturday, January 17 at Allianz Park