The announcement of the British and Irish Lions squad for the summer tour of New Zealand has taken the focus off domestic rugby in recent weeks but with the Champions Cup semi-finals looming large, all focus swings back to this weekend when the final two teams in the competition will be determined.
Munster will take on the might of English Premiership and defending European champions Saracens on Saturday, April 2nd and with both sides operating at close to their best, it has all the makings of an enthralling encounter between two of Europe’s top sides.
Munster will return to the semi-finals for the first time since the 2013-14 season for what will be a record 12th appearance at this stage of the competition. Twice the winners of the previous incarnation of the championship, the Heineken Cup, Munster is as storied a club as any who have taken part.
A shoulder injury suffered during the Six Nations has newly named Lion Conor Murray at risk of missing the semi-final in the Aviva Stadium but with Duncan Williams enjoying a period of fine form, plus the return of fellow Lion CJ Stander from an ankle injury suffered during the quarter-final clash with Toulouse, there is an air of confidence in the group not seen since the days when O’Connell, Stringer, O’Gara and the late great Anthony Foley, had European rugby in the palm of the hand.
Saracens, for their part, are looking to defend the title they swept to last season and with a squad that has contributed six players to the newly named Lions panel, are a side that poses as much, if not more, danger than it did last season.
The reigning Premiership champions currently sit third in the Premiership table, within striking distance of the top, and show all the signs of being the team to beat once again.
With Owen Farrell controlling games from the centre of the field and the likes of the Vunipola brothers, George Kruis, Jamie George and a raft of internationals, the London based club has replaced Toulon as the dominant side in European rugby.
When the two side clash on Saturday, they will pit two very different styles of play against each other. Where Munster are set piece experts, Saracens thrive in chaos, quickly adapting to broken play and fashioning attacks from nothing.
Precision box kicking from Munster will be contrasted with fast ball through the hands from Saracens.
On paper the English side has the advantage. As a team they are bigger, faster and stronger, with a list of stars only rivaled by the waning Toulon.
Munster, however, are once again that side that is so doggedly difficult to beat. Adding emerging talents across the backs and forwards, they will not roll over for anyone.
Saracens will know that with the memory of their friend and colleague Foley ever present in the minds of the Munster squad, this will likely be the toughest match of the season so far for the defending champions.
Kick off in the Aviva Stadium on Saturday is at 3:15pm.
Gary Brennan, Pundit Arena