Saracens forward coach Paul Gustard believes his big-name players are ready to stand up and be counted as they look to end Munster’s Heineken Cup dream this weekend.
The sides head into Sunday’s huge clash at Vicarage Road level on points at the top of Pool One after Saturday’s 15-9 victory for Munster at Thomond Park.
But after grinding out a losing bonus point in a below-par performance in Limerick, Gustard is confident his side will improve significantly for the rematch.
And with the likes of Schalk Brits, Kelly Brown and Steve Borthwick performing well at Thomond, Gustard is adamant this could be a decisive weekend in Saracens’ quest to rule Europe.
And he has railed against neutrals who have criticised his side in the wake of that defeat to Munster, claiming they are judged more stringently than their rivals.
“We see this competition as the chance to put ourselves at the top table of European rugby and say to everyone that Saracens are here to stay, and we are a force to be reckoned with,” said Gustard.
“We have fought very hard to get in amongst Europe’s elite and tests don’t come much bigger than Munster. It’s a privilege to play against these guys.
“There is an expectation amongst the group, and we know our destiny is in our hands. We want to qualify for the quarter-finals for the second season in a row.
“We’ve got a lot of big international players, captains of their country in John Smit, Steve Borthwick and Kelly Brown, then youngsters such as Owen Farrell, Alex Goode, Chris Ashton and so on.
“It’s funny — Leinster went to Clermont with Brock James and his crew, got a losing bonus point and were given plenty of plaudits.
“We went away to Thomond, got a losing bonus point and everyone is saying we were second best by a long way. It’s one rule for one and one rule for another.”
And Gustard has promised Saracens’ lineout will function far better than it did on Saturday. Saracens had not lost a single lineout in their opening two matches but were torn apart by Munster, who stole four of Sarries’ throws in the first half alone. But Gustard believes that Borthwick, who leads the line at Saracens, has resolved all the problems in a set piece that normally works so well.
“It’s unfortunate all the mistakes we have made on the lineout this season all came on the same night,” he added.
“We’ve still got Europe’s preeminent caller in Steve, and the best thrower in the northern hemisphere in Schalk. There’s no point in throwing the baby out with the bathwater, and we believe we are in a good place. We also pride ourselves on our discipline and we gave Munster a start with some poor penalties — something we couldn’t haul back despite having opportunities ourselves.
“That will definitely be improved upon this weekend.”
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