Rugby fans are salivating at the prospect of what promises to be an explosive Champions Cup semi-final clash between Saracens and Munster.
England’s Saracens, winners of last year’s Gallagher Premiership, are confident of picking up their third European title in four years. Standing before them are Ireland’s two-time European Cup winners, Munster, who know this stage only too well.
The Irishmen will make a record-breaking 14th European Cup semi-final appearance at Ricoh Arena, Coventry, on April 20. Wasps’ home stadium was chosen by Saracens in line with their home advantage, despite being over 90 miles from their own stoop at Allianz Park, London.
Interest in this clash is huge, with the leading rugby betting sites already taking big money on the outcome. Tickets for the game sold out in minutes on April 9, proving just how much is invested in this key encounter.
With betting on Saracens vs. Munster set to provide punters with a few key questions regarding who will come out on top, I have decided to look into this game in a little detail.
Both teams have been contenders for this year’s title before the first pass of the competition had been thrown and have simply gone from strength to strength as the tournament has progressed.
However, this is knockout rugby, and there can only be one winner. The question is, who wants it most?
Latest Saracens vs. Munster Odds
The odds below are provided by Bovada. They are accurate at the time of writing, though subject to change.
Saracens to Win-305
Munster to Win+240
At first glance, these odds appear to be pretty much in line with pre-game expectations.
Saracens are the English champions and boast what some believe to be the strongest team in the competition. Although their overall record against Munster is 3 wins and 5 losses, they have come out on top in recent encounters.
Saracens are priced at +150 to win the European Champions Cup.
Munster, on the other hand, will likely have to deal with the absence of Ireland international and star fly-half Joey Carbery due to injury.
Number 10 has been a position that has troubled the Munster men since the departure of the legendary Ronan O’Gara in 2013. Carbery, who signed from Munster in 2017, is the only player that has looked close to making the shirt his own.
Bovada put the spread at 7.5 points for this one. Saracens are currently -7.5 (-115) while you can get Munster at a very attractive +7.5 (-115).
Munster are priced at +550 to win the European Champions Cup.
There is one particular bet above that I believe to be good value, and I will explain why a little later.
First, let’s take a look at both teams’ recent records heading into this crunch clash.
Saracens vs. Munster – Form in Last Six Games
When betting on rugby, it’s always a good idea to know how the team you are backing has fared in previous encounters.
For the most part, the recent form of a team can be an eye-opener and give you a little idea of what shape they are in ahead of a game.
Let’s take a look at Saracens first.
Saracens’ Previous Six
Saracens have a record of four wins and two losses in their last six games but will face Bristol Bears on Saturday, April 13, ahead of the semi-final against Munster.
They have played at home (h) in four of the games below and away (a) in two.
The results are as follows.
- 04/06/2019 – Gallagher Premiership: 26 – 12 vs. Newcastle (h)
- 03/30/2019 – Champions Cup Quarter Final: 56 – 27 vs. Glasgow (h)
- 03/23/2019 – Gallagher Premiership: 27 – 20 vs. Harlequins (h)
- 17/03/2019 – Gallagher Premiership: 9 – 23 vs. Northampton (a)
- 03/08/2019 – Gallagher Premiership: 9 – 18 vs. Bath (a)
- 03/02/2019 – Gallagher Premiership: 36 – 17 vs. Northampton (h)
Four wins and two losses in six games is probably two losses too many for the English champs.
However, both of those losses — to Bath and Northampton — came during the Six Nations. England relies heavily on the spine of the Sarries’ team, meaning the London-based outfit was missing the likes of Owen Farrell, Nick Isiekwe, Jamie George, George Kruis, Maro Itoje, and Billy and Mako Vunipola.
Any team would have suffered without their key players, so it would be a good idea not to invest too much in those defeats as a result.
For an indication of Saracen’s recent form in Europe, one only has to look at their seven-try demolition over Glasgow on March 30.
Without star fly-half and talisman Owen Farrell, the team battered Scotland’s best team 56-27 to march towards a semi-final appearance against Munster with a lot of confidence.
Munster’s Previous Six
Munster carry a solid record of five wins and one loss into their clash with Saracens, although they will face Benetton Rugby on April 12 ahead of the semi-final.
Munster have played three of their last games at home and three away from home.
- 04/05/2019 – Guinness PRO14: 45 – 21 vs. Cardiff Blues (h)
- 03/30/2019 – Champions Cup Quarter Final: 17 – 13 vs. Edinburgh (a)
- 03/23/2019 – Guinness PRO14: 31 – 12 vs. Zebre (h)
- 03/02/2019 – Guinness PRO14: 6 – 10 vs. Scarlets (a)
- 02/22/2019 – Guinness PRO14: 19 – 13 vs. Ospreys (a)
- 02/15/2019 – Guinness PRO14: 43 – 0 vs. Kings (h)
Munster may be missing Joey Carbery, but that wasn’t enough to prevent them romping to a 45-21 win over Cardiff Blues in Cork on April 5.
The win was an encouraging one for the Munster men and followed on from a slim victory over Edinburgh in the Champions Cup Quarter Final on March 30.
Munster is certainly a team that has a pedigree in this tournament and will be hoping to find themselves in their first European Cup Final since 2008. That day, the Irish province won their second European title in three years with a 16-13 win over Toulouse.
As it stands, a repeat of the 2007/08 final is a possibility.
Munster’s domestic rivals, Leinster, take on Toulouse at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on April 21 in the second semi-final of the weekend.
While Munster and Toulouse are the underdogs this year, there is no doubt that they could surprise most and slug it out for the title on May 12 in Newcastle, England.
Saracens vs. Munster – The Key Players
While we all know that the battle will be fought on the field on April 20, who are the generals and soldiers that will go to war?
Part of what makes betting on Saracens vs. Munster such an intriguing prospect is the wealth of quality in the ranks of both sides. With several English and Irish stars set to go head to head — players that are more than used to playing against one another and on the same team with the British and Irish Lions — this game could come down to inches.
To better understand where this game could be won and lost, let’s take a look at the key men who should line up in this European Champions Cup Semi-Final.
Let’s start with the Saracens. There are some big, big names in this Saracens team.
From big, bombastic ball carriers to shrewd and lightning-quick playmakers and try scorers, they have it all. Perhaps it is no wonder that Saracens are ranked as the best team in Europe, despite Leinster currently reigning as champions of the continent.
The first name that will come to mind for many when they think of Saracens is, of course, their star man, Owen Farrell.
Even before his first appearance in an England jersey in 2011, it was clear to see that Owen Farrell was destined for big things.
After all, rugby runs in this guy’s blood. The 2017 EPCR European Player of the Year’s father, Andy, was a cross-code international for England and is set to take over the helm from Joe Schmidt at Ireland after the World Cup in 2019.
Farrell has registered 1,574 points from 157 appearances for Saracens and is third in the all-time scoring list in this competition.
An excellent kicker and passer, Farrell is also an astute tactician and one of the bravest and most potent number 10s in the modern game. Saracens did well without him against Glasgow, but there is no doubt that they are a better team when he is involved.
A 2019 EPCR European Player of the Year nominee, Alex Goode has been a huge presence for his team this year.
Goode did not miss a single minute for the English Champions in the group stages of the competition this season and has racked up some excellent stats in the process.
Although not the flashiest player on or off the pitch, Goode’s ability to beat defenders and work his way into encouraging positions is vital to Saracens. Additionally, he is great under a high ball and has impeccable defensive positioning which makes him a standout fullback for Sarries.
As one of the best forwards in world rugby, Saracens are blessed to have Billy Vunipola in the team.
A wrecking ball in attack and solid in defense, the England number 8 is a vital player for his team. Although he has suffered from a number of injuries over the past couple of seasons, Vunipola has overcome his troubles to put in some excellent performances this year.
Vunipola will be relishing taking on his opposite number, CJ Stander, on April 20 and will be confident of getting the upper hand as he did when England beat Ireland in Dublin earlier this year.
Alongside James Ryan of Ireland and Alun Wyn Jones of Wales, Maro Itoje makes up the three best locks in the Northern Hemisphere.
However, if you ask most Saracens and England fans, you might just hear a convincing case as to why Itoje is the best of them all.
Although he is just 24 years old, it feels as though Itoje has been around for a long time. The Camden-born second row scooped 2016’s EPCR European Player of the Year award and is one of the first names on both Saracens and England’s teamsheets when fit.
His excellent work in the lineout, in defense, and as a ball carrier is crucial to Saracens’ chances of winning their third title.
Munster’s team is also one that is stacked with talent, so let’s move on to them.
While Joey Carbery will be out for this key match, there will be a number of players wearing the famous red of Munster that will be looking to step up in his absence.
One man who is always the first to put himself in the firing line is Munster’s tough and tenacious captain, Peter O’Mahony.
O’Mahony is a living legend in Munster.
As one of Ireland’s true world-class players, O’Mahony is a well-known name in the world of rugby. His reputation as a leader and all-out barbarian on the pitch — in addition to his excellent skills at the breakdown and in defense — earned him the Munster captaincy just a couple of months after his 24th birthday.
O’Mahony is the heart and soul of this Munster team and is among the finest players in the sport.
Anyone who watched Tadhg Beirne while at the Scarlets would have expected him to do well at Munster.
However, Beirne has surprised even the most hardcore of his fans throughout the course of the season. His performances have been nothing less than top class and, above all, consistent.
Beirne is already a key player for Munster and will need to be on top form for the province to reach the final.
An absolute workhorse.
Munster are still waiting for the Murray of old to return to the fore, considering his form this year has been questionable.
However, on his day, Conor Murray is the best scrumhalf on the planet and can transform any team he plays for into winners. Whether it is Ireland, the British and Irish Lions, or, of course, Munster, Murray’s work can make the difference.
While his performances this season are nowhere near the level he was playing at last year, there is hope that he will rediscover his mojo before the games against Saracens.
CJ Stander is a huge part of the revered Munster pack that is going to need to be firing on all cylinders to beat this Saracens team.
Stander is another Irish player that came in for heavy criticism following a Six Nations where they were beaten by England and Wales. However, Stander has looked better in a Munster jersey in 2019 and has been a huge reason why the province has gotten this far.
Expect a big game from the South African-born number 8, who will engage in an intriguing subplot clash against his opposite number, Billy Vunipola.
Saracens vs. Munster – The Prediction
This game will be played with the same level of intensity as previous encounters between the two.
In 2017, Saracens overcame a dogged Munster outfit — and a first-half onslaught — to beat the Irish team 26-10 at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. A try for CJ Stander was canceled out by one apiece for Mako Vunipola and Chris Wyles, with the trusty boot of Owen Farrell adding to the misery for Munster in the Irish capital.
I believe that there will be a few similarities between this year’s game and that of 2017.
The most glaringly obvious is, of course, that — just like two years ago — the winner of this tie will go on to face the winner of Leinster and the last French team standing in the tournament.
However, to be a bit more precise, I believe there will be similar areas of contention that will determine who will advance to the final.
In the first half of that game in 2017, Munster clocked a highly impressive two-thirds of territory and almost 75% of the possession. If they had found a way past the magnificent defense of Saracens, they probably would have gone on to win the game.
This time around, Munster are looking better in attack and — if they manage to work with as much forward momentum as in Dublin two years ago — should find more opportunities to score.
If Saracens defense is not as impregnable as it was in 2017, which I don’t believe it will be, then we could see a fairly high-scoring first half.
Discipline Will Matter
Should this game be as tight as I expect it to be, then it could very well come down to who is more disciplined.
You could argue that Munster were fortunate to come away with the win against Edinburgh to get them to this position.
Having given away 12 penalties — and with losing Beirne to the sin-bin — Johann van Graan will not be pleased. Still, they won ugly and came away with the spoils, but a similar defensive performance against Saracens would not work out well.
If Saracens can get an early foothold and catch Munster cold, much like England did to Ireland in the Six Nations earlier this year, then it could be an uphill task for Munster.
However, as Sarries have shown in the past — and even against Glasgow in the quarters — they are more than capable of patiently building before taking every opportunity that comes their way.
Against Munster, a team that is near enough to full strength and have a pedigree in this competition, they will not find it so easy.
Glasgow were missing six players and had just welcomed Stuart Hogg back to action in their previous European Cup tie. Yes, Munster will likely be missing Carbery, but in Tyler Bleyendaal, they will have a solid and highly intelligent rugby brain at 10.
I see a high-scoring game for this one, with the final result coming down to no more than a try or a couple of penalties.
As mentioned above, I have identified a bet that is very appealing indeed — the value here is Munster -7.0 at -110.
While I believe they will be pipped by Saracens, a strong performance and a couple of decisions in their favor could see them make their first European Champions Cup Final in 11 years.
Saracens are very strong right now, and I expect them to make the final on May 12, but Munster will push them very close.
Saracens vs. Munster promises to be a good old Anglo-Hiberno clash that will feature some of the best players in the world right now.
Both teams are familiar with the highest stage in European rugby and will leave everything on the field.
Whether you are betting on a Saracens or Munster triumph, you will likely have your reasons for guessing your choice. These two sides are very close in terms of quality and feature a number of top-class internationals who are more than capable of winning a game of rugby.
It should be an excellent match.
Saracens vs. Munster Betting Preview – Semi-Final on the 2019 Heineken Champions Cup
Saracens and Munster, two true giants of European club rugby, clash in the first of this year’s Heineken Champions Cup semi-finals on April 20.