European Champions Cup Pool 1
Saracens v Munster
Saturday: Allianz Park, 1pm
TV: BT Sport
Forget the great escapes and the miracle matches, Anthony Foley believes Munster’s rich European history will have no impact whatsoever on the outcome at Saracens this Saturday.
The Irish province faces the latest in a long line of must-win games this weekend when they travel to English powerhouse club Saracens in north London needing to keep their Champions Cup knockout hopes alive into the last round of pool matches the following week.
It is not a new situation, even for the current crop of players, but keeping a run of qualification for European quarter-finals that has seen Munster reach the Heineken Cup last eight 14 out of the last 15 times surely brings a fair amount of pressure down on the shoulders of the head coach and his players as they prepare to visit the Aviva Premiership big guns on their articificial home turf.
“The pressure is grand,” insisted Foley with a smile. “It is about putting a process in place and about trying to get a result. I don’t think looking at the history books are going to help us. To be honest we don’t talk about that (history), we talk about how to win a game. We don’t look at the history books or what’s gone before. We understand that if we win the game it gives us another day out in terms of another opportunity to get more points to get out of the group. That’s all it does, you know.
“And that if we lose we are basically out, we understand that and we need to go about our job as if we are playing a knock-out game, the same as if you have any sense of imagination when we were young fellas playing schools cup matches ‘this it, there is no tomorrow’.”
No tomorrow and certainly feeling no need to reference the past, Foley is all about making the ‘now’ count against Saracens this weekend on a 4G pitch at a sold-out Allianz Park.
“It is about a physical game. It is about making sure that we play a smart game against them and try and beat them. It is not an easy thing to be done over there. Obviously they have home advantage – a pitch that we wouldn’t normally play on, they play on it nearly every second week.
“It does have a consequence on the outcome in terms on what way the ball goes at times. You would have seen in the Clermont game (in round one) they tap back a ball, (Clermont’s) Sébastien Vahaamahina goes through, the ball is taken back, they kick a ball down the pitch it bounces funny, they score the other end.
“That happens regularly over there – there is a consequence around that pitch but you get used to it. We have played Cardiff Blues there for a couple of season. We have used the pitch in UL and hopefully it has been enough for us to be prepared that we can just concentrate on the 15 on 15.”
Part of those 15 v 15 preparations will see Foley press home the need to put in not just a strong second-half performance that has been missing from several of Munster’s recent league outings, but also get off to the sort of fast start that Clermont managed at Thomond Park in round three, when the French side put the province on the back foot with a try in the second minute.
“It is about getting the best performance out of players and making sure they understand where the opportunities lie within the game, how to go about winning these games.
“We know there might be one score in this game and you want to be on the right side of that so that we can make sure of the margins within the game. they could be a scrum penalty here or there, there could be a maul penalty here or there, could be kicking the ball out on the full, it could be a missed tackle, a knocked-on ball, you don’t know.
“But you needs to be on your money for every second of the game, you don’t know, it is about staying in the moment and being as accurate as you can be and making sure that we try and take the game away from them at home, it is a hard thing to do, Clermont took it away from us in round three and, if we can take stuff we’ve done in the past and implement that, then we have a chance. But, it’s obviously a place that not many teams go and win.”
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