Saracens 15-6 Munster: Title holders keep Heineken Champions Cup defence alive
|Heineken Champions Cup Pool 4|
|Saracens (3) 15|
|Tries: Maitland, M Vunipola Con: Farrell Pen: Farrell|
|Munster (3) 6|
|Pens: Hanrahan 2|
Title-holders Saracens kept their Heineken Champions Cup defence alive after inflicting Munster's first European defeat of the season.
The scores were level at half-time after penalties from Owen Farrell and JJ Hanrahan.
Another Hanrahan kick gave Munster the lead after the break, before Sean Maitland's try took Sarries ahead.
And Mako Vunipola dived over shortly after to secure the hosts' second win in the competition.
Saracens's attack sparked into life after a brawl in the second half, which head coach Mark McCall says was caused by a comment to hooker Jamie George by a member of Munster's medical team.
The result means both Saracens and Munster could still reach the quarter-finals as they chase Pool 4 leaders Racing 92.
Munster are second in the group, six points off the French side, while Saracens are seven points behind the leaders in third with Ospreys fourth.
The five pool leaders qualify for the quarter-finals, with the three best-placed runners-up also going through.
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Saracens show strength in depth
After fielding a weakened side against the same opponents last weekend, Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall recalled several internationals for the reverse fixture.
Conversely, Munster were forced to play without captain Peter O'Mahony, who had to withdraw with a groin injury just before kick-off, with CJ Stander stepping up as skipper.
McCall's side made several trips into Munster's 22 early on, but could only claim three points through captain Farrell when the Irish side were penalised just to the left of the posts.
Munster were dealt further blows in the pack as Ireland international Tadhg Beirne left the field on a stretcher with a leg injury after just 10 minutes of play and prop John Ryan was forced off shortly after.
But the province, who won 10-3 when the two sides met at Thomond Park last weekend, looked increasingly threatening and eventually Hanrahan's penalty levelled the scores.
The fly-half took his side ahead after Saracens flanker Ben Earl was penalised for a tackle on Keith Earls, then the hosts turned the tables again after tempers flared.
A Munster medic and Saracens hooker George appeared to exchange words and the scuffle that followed resulted in a Munster penalty after captain Farrell was punished for getting involved unnecessarily.
But the incident seemed to ignite the hosts' attack and Billy Vunipola grabbed the ball at the back of a scrum, sucked in defenders then threw a pass out for Maitland to cross in the right corner.
Farrell missed the conversion, meaning Saracens only had a two-point lead, but Vunipola's brother Mako soon made things more comfortable for the hosts as he went over from short range.
Saracens, who also have a battle on their hands in the Premiership after a 35-point deduction, play Ospreys in the penultimate round of pool-stage matches on 11 January and Munster face Racing 92 the following day.
|Heineken Champions Cup Pool 4|
'Our intent went through the roof' - what they said
Saracens head coach Mark McCall said: "It took us a while today. Munster defended superbly well.
"There was a marked difference between our performance in the first and second half. We showed ourselves what it can look like when we hit that intensity marker."
Saracens captain Owen Farrell said: "The game was slow in the first half and they were more enthusiastic which is unlike us.
"We talked about that at half-time. We came out and our intent went through the roof."
Saracens: Malins; Maitland, Lozowski, Tompkins, Daly; Farrell (c), Wigglesworth; Mako Vunipola, George, Koch, Kpoku, Kruis, Isiekwe, Earl, B Vunipola.
Replacements: Woolstencroft, Barrington, Ibuanokpe, Clark, Wray, Spencer, Manu Vunipola, Taylor.
Munster: Haley; Conway, Farrell, R Scannell, Earls; Hanrahan, Murray; Cronin, N Scannell, Ryan, Kleyn, Holland, Beirne, O'Mahony (C), Stander.
Replacements: O'Byrne, O'Connor, Archer, Wycherley, O'Donoghue, McCarthy, Goggin, O'Donnell.
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