European Champions Cup – round 2

Munster vs Saracens
Munster were the only side to win away last weekend, their 3rd opening round away victory in 11 attempts. It means this will be the lone round 2 contest between winning sides from last week.

Anthony Foley’s side have won 52 of 54 home pool matches by an average score of 29-13 and the last 21 in a row by a rate of 27-12. They’ve also won 4 of 5 meetings with Saracens in European competition, with all 5 matches decided by margins of 1-6 points. Possibly not as relevant for this contest, but the hosts have also won 16 consecutive round 2 matches while Saracens have lost 4 of the last 5.

The teams were grouped together in the 2012/13 season and played out a couple of low scoring and at times bad tempered matches, back to back. In round 3, Munster won 15-9, but had a penalty count of 21 to 11 while 8 days later Saracens won 19-13 and the penalty count was 11 to 10. Farrell did miss 4/7 attempts at goal in the Thomond Park game and has played just 105 minutes so far, so it will be a tough environment for his 2nd start of the season.

Munster came back from 23-7 down at halftime, to win 26-27 last week and while that may be an extreme example – they do have a very good 2nd half record in Europe. They’ve only been outscored after the break 4 times in the last 25 matches and conceded just 17 combined 2nd half points in the last 7 home games. Over the last 2 seasons, they are averaging just 5 points conceded 2nd half at all venues.
The visitors have a strong 2nd half record themselves in recent European games and have only lost the 2nd half in 1 of their last 8 away pool games (Toulouse last season).They have also showed a ruthless streak in the Premiership so far, with a 78th min score against Wasps and 79th against London Irish.

Had planned to back the hosts in this match but there are a few concerns. The 1st half against Sale can’t be forgotten, just because they won. Allowing for any specific issues there may have been with the officiating of the breakdown, there were also holes in the midfield that Saracens are capable of exploiting, if presented again. That wasn’t a one-off either, as Smith missed 4 tackles against Treviso and 3 against Scarlets in Pro12 matches, while Hurley missed 4 against Sale.

Based on the 2nd half trends and chance of a low scoring contest, Saracens under 9.5 points after the break is worth considering. Munster’s opponents have scored under that level in the last 7 pool home matches and 10/12 at all venues. Saracens have scored over 9.5 points 2nd half in only 2 of their previous 9 pool away games – 10 points at Zebre and Racing Metro (played in Brussels).

An alternate option would be Munster -1 on the 2nd half handicap or Munster 1-10 winning margin at 2.75.

Have backed no try at 21.0 but there are some attractive anytime prices such as Murray at 10.0 and Strettle at 3.75.

Munster: 15 Felix Jones, 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Andrew Smith, 12 Denis Hurley, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Ian Keatley, 9 Conor Murray, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Tommy O’Donnell, 6 Peter O’Mahony (c), 5 Paul O’Connell, 4 Dave Foley, 3 BJ Botha, 2 Dave Casey, 1 James Cronin
Replacements: 16 Eusebio Guinazu, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Billy Holland, 20 Robin Copeland, 21 Duncan Williams, 22 JJ Hanrahan, 23 Gerhard van den Heever
Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Brad Barritt (c), 11 David Strettle, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Neil de Kock, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Will Fraser, 6 Kelly Brown, 5 Jim Hamilton, 4 George Kruis, 3 Petrus du Plessis, 2 Jamie George, 1 Richard Barrington
Replacements: 16 Scott Spurling, 17 Rhys Gill, 18 James Johnston, 19 Mouritz Botha, 20 Jackson Wray, 21 Richard Wigglesworth, 22 Charlie Hodgson, 23 Duncan Taylor