European Champions Cup Pool 1
Munster v Saracens
Friday: Thomond Park, 7.45pm
Munster head coach Anthony Foley has warned his players they must deal better with the breakdown against Saracens on Friday night than they did in their opening Champions Cup win over Sale.
Foley watched his side get out of jail in their Pool 1 opener at AJ Bell Stadium on Saturday afternoon, winning 27-26 with a last-kick drop goal from Ian Keatley having trailed 23-7 at half-time.
Munster dug themselves a deep hole in that first half as they managed just 30 per cent possession and conceded eight penalties in an opening 40 minutes that reaped three successful kicks form Danny Cipriani and two converted tries for Sale.
Foley had gone into the game expecting a lifting of refereeing standards in European competition but it is debatable whether French referee Mathieu Raynal, who lasted just 16 minutes before being departing injured, and his replacement Laurent Cardona represented that with the Munster boss livid at the interval following a lineout awarded the wrong way that led to Sale's opening try.
What is not in question though, is that regardless of the refereeing, Munster can ill afford a repeat of such a sloppy opening half when last year's Heineken Cup runners-up Saracens come calling to Thomond Park this weekend.
“We knew that the breakdown wasn’t going to be for the defending side so we focused on playing with the ball,” Foley said last night. “We didn’t manage to do that, we turned over too much ball that was in our control, just some of the stuff around the lineout that wasn’t theirs and they score off that.
“The restart that was knocked on that we didn’t get. There was another ball that was clearly knocked on that hit a fella on the back of the shoulder, went five yards forward, play on… Conor Murray’s penalty when there’s clearly not a ruck, ball passed into him again should we play on, it’s open play. Stuff like that.
“Peter (O’Mahony) is over a ball that in international rugby he gets a penalty every time and doesn’t get it… He’s done it twice and can get frustrated with that, scrums… they (referees) make their best assessment of that and you deal with it.
“You deal with it away from home and you hope it’s rectified going forward. We’ll send our report on to (European referee's chief) Donal Courtney, he’ll deal with it in the best way forward.”
Asked whether he was hoping for better from experienced Test referee Jerome Garces in Limerick this Friday night, Foley replied: “You’d hope for better from our players, first and foremost, that is what we can control, we’ll get our point across to the officials.
“They're not out there to do malice to anyone. They want a good game as well, and they want to be able to go back in and write their report and get bigger games and get into the international circuit and get into the World Cup selection. That will be a big thing for them at the end of this season, to be in that category so they can go to the World Cup as well.
“So there is pressure on the referees and the officials but we'd like for them to have a good game. We'd like that for our own players as well but we understand we'll make mistakes, the players will mistakes and the referees will make mistakes. It's the ones at this level, the simple ones shouldn't be happening and that's frustrating.”
Munster, who sold an extra 1000 tickets in the hours following Saturday's dramatic win in Manchester to lift sales to 21,818 so far for this weekend, appear to have recovered well following a bruising encounter but Saracens will be without Springbok hooker Schalk Brits, who is facing a lengthy absence with knee ligament damage.
Saracens confirmed Brits, forced off in the 75th minute of their 30-23 win over Clermont on Saturday, would be out at least into the New Year with their head of medicine Joe Collins saying the South African would undergo surgery today, leaving the English Premiership leaders likely to start Jamie George as first-choice hooker in Limerick with Scott Spurling on the bench.
“Nobody likes to see a player being stretchered off,” said Foley, whose own first-choice hookers Mike Sherry and Damien Varley are both injured, the latter having undergone foot surgery yesterday in London. “It looks as if it's a serious injury, out for the season. We wish him all the best and hope he has a speedy recovery.
“We feel for players that go down injured, we've enough of our own players, Damien got his operation today so we understand that and we feel for the player and hope he's back soon.
“But he is a big player, for South Africa and for Saracens and he's one that will be missed and I'm sure, in a different way, the people of Limerick would love to see Brits running around in Thomond Park as well. He's one of those players that excites when he's got the ball in his hands.”
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