The first Champions Cup semi-final of the weekend came to Dublin, with Munster taking on the reigning champions Saracens and in perfect conditions for rugby, both sides went at it from the start.
Munster dominated the opening passages of play, threatening the Saracens try line within the first four minutes of the game. An impressively dominant scrum from the home side saw the visitors doggedly defending their line and ultimately conceded a penalty which Tyler Bleyendaal coolly slotted for an early lead.
Fans recognised the Munster intensity.
Come on #Munster. Great intensity to the start of this game. What a game this is gonna be
— Glen Smith (@glenzy7) April 22, 2017
Saracens quickly found their feet and squandered an easy try at the other end when a characteristic break from broken play saw Sean Maitland tear down the far touchline only for his pass infield to be fumbled.
It was sea of red in the Aviva on Saturday, as the travelling hoard from the south-west made the trip to the capital to support the side looking to upset the form book and reach the final for the first time since 2008.
Saracens leveled the score on 16 minutes with a penalty from Owen Farrell, capping a period of their own superiority.
From there it was game on both sides went hammer and tongs against each other, with massive hits and silky skill coming from both sides.
A pair of tackles in the air and questionable high hits from the Premiership side saw Jackson Wray take a trip to the sin bin half way through the first half, with Munster fans quick to give their opinion on the English side.
Saracens need to stop tackling players in the air ?#MUNvSAR
— @Aoifs123 (@Aoifs123) April 22, 2017
Deserved first yellow card for Saracens, Jackson Wray with a high tackle on Duncan Williams. Noise levels ratcheting up. #MUNvSAR
— Ciarán Ó Raghallaigh (@Ciaran_O) April 22, 2017
Despite being a man down, Saracens’ defence was in awesome form, repelling the constant Munster pressure. Saracens resistance fuelled their confidence and by the end of the first half the defending champions were beginning to click and were up 6-3, leading to the Munster faithful to ponder the lack of points for all the pressure.
— Oliver Ridout (@Ridoo90) April 22, 2017
Munster with all the possession but Saracens in the lead. #MUNvSAR
— Dan Leahy (@DanLeahy71) April 22, 2017
Saracens defence way too good for Munster #MUNvSAR
— Joseph Scully (@joescully83) April 22, 2017
Munster need to show a little more invention in attack now, lots of great possession and territory but Sarries lapping up attack so far.
— Murray Kinsella (@Murray_Kinsella) April 22, 2017
Don't know how Munster will get through that black wall though.
— Jacques Burger (@Nabasboer) April 22, 2017
The second half saw Saracens applying the early pressure and it was Munster’s turn to defend, having enjoyed 64% of first half possession, with little reward on the scoreboard, however.
Like the first half, pressure continued to swing back and forth as each side looked to find the right combination of passes that would find the chink their opponent’s defensive armour.
With Munster continuing to employ the box kick and keep the ball predominantly with the forwards, fans began getting nervous.
Williams makes poor decision; ball kicked away to Saracens who clear. Back on half-way; Munster have plenty of life and energy, no spark
— david kelly (@dk3lly) April 22, 2017
Munster are kicking away great territory
— John O'Sullivan (@NotoriousJOS) April 22, 2017
Munster need something different in attack. Yes kicking is good, but need to mix it up once or twice. #MUNvSAR
— Donn O Sullivan (@DonnOSullivan) April 22, 2017
Two handling errors by Saracens as they saw clear air to the line kept Munster in the game, but it fired a warning of the threat the English side posed.
That threat was realised on 55 minutes as Mako Vunipola went over for the first try of the game. A missed penalty kick from Munster minutes later and it seemed the tide had well and truly turned in Saracens’ favour.
Having absorbed all of Munster’s intensity and pressure, the Premiership side began turning the screw on their Irish opponents.
Camping out in the Munster half, advantages and penalties began to come for the champions and the scoreboard continued to tick up in favour of the visitors. For Munster fans, a Champions Cup final was disappearing rapidly.
Looking pretty bleak for Munster now.. #ChampionsCup
— Declan Connolly (@DeckyConnolly) April 22, 2017
Munster really missing O'Mahony since he went off
— Colin Harmon (@dublinbarista) April 22, 2017
#MUNvSAR Looking ominous for Munster now it pains me to say.
— Jimmy Murphy (@JimmyREMfan) April 22, 2017
Another try for Saracens against the run of play on 70 minutes and suddenly the Munster dream looked all over.
Munster gone… never at the races today! #MUNvSAR
— The Elmtree Clinic (@ElmtreeClinic) April 22, 2017
So it was, despite a late try from CJ Stander and Munster, the reigning Premiership and Champions Cup holders continued their irresistible drive for glory, running out 10-26 winners.
Following the final whistle, fans lamented what turned out to be a step too far for the Irish province.
Munster pathetic. Poor decisions from their fly half together with poor kicking costing them a place in the #ChampionsCup final
— Jason (@wellsie82) April 22, 2017
So disappointing from Munster. Understand the tactics in the first half to keep things tight, but to try it again in the second was never on
— John Keogh (@johnnybkeogh) April 22, 2017
For all their huffing and puffing Munster couldn't blow down Saracens house. Have been made to look quite blunt. Top effort by crowd too.
— Gerry Thornley (@gerrythornley) April 22, 2017
Saracens are a team with incredible grit, team spirit, organisation & leadership. No shame for Munster to lose to them and they will be back
— Bernard Jackman (@bernardjackman) April 22, 2017
— Conor Murphy (@conorsmurf) April 22, 2017
Gary Brennan, Pundit Arena