The last time Saracens won the European Champions Cup, in 2017, they defeated Glasgow in the quarter-finals and Munster in the last four to set up a date with Clermont Auvergne in Edinburgh.

Glasgow were seen off last month and Munster again stand in the way of another trip north, although not quite as far with the final being staged next month in Newcastle. It is the Irish province’s third consecutive semi-final and a record 14th in the competition but they have lost their past six since winning the tournament in 2008.

“This stage has been a sticking point for us and that has to stop,” said Munster’s Ireland centre, Chris Farrell, who held talks with Saracens two years ago before deciding to leave Grenoble for Ireland. “We have to get beyond this point and we cannot have the same mindset as in previous years: we have to do something different.

“Two years ago, we paid Saracens too much respect. We are not going to sit back and let them enforce their game as we did then. We cracked in the second half and did not look like we could trouble them but we are different now and have added a lot to our team.

“They are the No 1 team in Europe and will be expecting to win but we will not make it easy for them. We have to put them under pressure early and stop them from generating momentum. This is our chance to start from zero.”

It will be the ninth meeting of the sides in the tournament. Munster have five victories to three, including the 2008 semi-final which, as it is on Saturday, was staged at the Ricoh Arena.

Munster were then one of Europe’s leading forces, on their way to their fourth final that decade, while Saracens were just emerging from a long hibernation and not expected to mount much of a challenge. They confounded expectation and were a late drop-goal away from victory.

Led by Paul O’Connell, Munster then brimmed with seasoned internationals, as Saracens do today. Their side are less celebrated now and, on paper, would not rank among the leading four in Europe. Yet the Champions Cup continues to bring out the very best in them, as they showed in their opening game this season when securing a draw at Exeter.

Mako Vunipola training



Mako Vunipola will make his first start for Saracens since January. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

“I do not know exactly what it is with Munster when it comes to Europe,” Farrell said. “Guys who have been here for a while like Keith Earls and Peter O’Mahony are extremely hungry and when they come back from international camps, they change things massively. They have an aura and everything we do in a week like this is led by them. This team is different to those that went before and we cannot base ourselves on the past. We want to do something special together.”

It may be a “home” game for Saracens but Munster are likely to have the majority of the spectators cheering them. They have long been the best supported team in Europe and it will be the third visit to England for their fans this season after the group trips to Exeter and Gloucester.

“I guarantee it will not feel like a home game for Saracens,” Farrell said. “Our fans were just insane in the games at Exeter and Gloucester. When we walked around Kingsholm at the end of the match, the stands were full of Munster supporters. They travel from all over to support us. We can take a lot from those games against sides who are in the top three of the Premiership.

“We had the mindset at Gloucester you need when you play away in Europe. We did not sit back but enforced our game on them, attacking in waves. A lesson of our last two semi-finals in Europe is that you cannot expect to be the better team. You have to force it from the start.”

Mako Vunipola returns from injury to make his first start for Saracens since January and his brother Billy is at No 8 at the end of the week when he was warned by club and country for liking Israel Folau’s comments about sinners.

Joey Carbery has failed to recover from a hamstring injury and the experienced Tyler Bleyendaal will partner Conor Murray at half-back for Munster.

“We are aware of what has happened this week,” Farrell said. “We do not hide away from social media. We have seen the reaction he received but the matter has zero bearing on the semi-final. Our focus has been us.”

source: theguardian.com

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