Munster can stay close in Champions Cup semi with Saracens
Defensive super-powers clash at Aviva Stadium
European Champions Cup semi-final
BT Sport 3, 3.15pm Saturday
There's been a shift of power in European rugby over the past few seasons and the first Champions Cup semi-final represents a clash between the old and the new at the top table.
Munster, European champions in 2006 and 2008, are playing a record 158th match in the tournament and are in the semis for the 12th time. Sarries are in their sixth semi-final but their fifth in a row and lifted the trophy for the first time last year.
The difference between the rivals goes beyond their pedigree. Sarries were sent off 3-1 tournament favourites and were no better than 4-6 to top their pool, while Munster were 66-1 shots and 10-1 outsiders in their section.
The start of Munster's campaign was struck by tragedy with the sudden death of coach Anthony Foley, and the players have seemed to be driven along on a tide of emotion. Saracens, in contrast, are the ultimate well-drilled, pragmatic side who have plotted their way through their last 16 European matches without defeat.
One common factor is the strength of their defence, and that may be decisive. Between them they shipped the fewest tries in the pool stage, Munster conceding four and Saracens six. They also lead the way in their domestic leagues, with Munster having conceded 30 tries in 20 Pro12 matches and Saracens just 23 in the Premiership.
Sarries are favourites to reach the final and retain their trophy but this looks the toughest clash they have faced since losing to Toulon in the final of 2014, and even though they have had to swap their Thomond Park stronghold in Limerick for Dublin's Aviva Stadium, the Irish outfit look the bet with a four-point start.
Given the defensive strength of both sides and the high stakes we are likely to see a close hard-fought contest. Sarries look to have an edge in terms of firepower out wide but they will be more than matched by Munster in terms of work rate and tactical nous and this could go down to the wire.
If the scores are level after 80 minutes there will be 20 minutes of extra time, after that tries scored (including in extra time) will decider the winner, followed by a place-kick competition.
The draw is a 25-1 shot in 80 minutes which is one to consider, but given that neither team has conceded a try in the first half in this campaign, the 12-1 about a half-time draw looks better. Paddy Power double-result market offers 13-2 about any outcome involving the draw, paying out backers if the teams are level at the interval or at the final whistle.
2pts 21-20 Betfair
1pt 12-1 Ladbrokes
Recent European meetings (seven in total, Munster lead 5-2) – 2014-15: Munster 14 Saracens 3, Saracens 33 Munster 10; 2012-13: Munster 15 Saracens 9, Saracens 19 Munster 13; 2007-08 semi-final: Saracens 16 Munster 18.