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McCall decision to rest top Sarries stars may be seen as disrespectful

 

Hard luck: Johann van Graan was hoping for intriguing battle
Hard luck: Johann van Graan was hoping for intriguing battle
David Kelly

By David Kelly

As if Saracens' sport wasn't sufficiently tainted by their domestic deceit, conceit will follow them all the way across the Irish Sea to Thomond Park.

A December evening in the Limerick cathedral should represent an opportunity to celebrate the very best of what this wonderful European competition stands for.

And, for the majority of the natives at least, this first leg of the traditional December double-header will suffice.

But for many others, the decision of the reigning champions to dilute their starting line-up smacks of indifference at the very least, perhaps teetering towards the brink of disrespect.

This should have been the marquee fixture of the weekend but instead it has been reduced to a sham exercise as Bangor native Mark McCall preserves his heavy hitters for next week's rematch.

At least we presume that is the case. Their title defence should be in tatters shortly after seven o'clock this evening.

Munster, after slipping up at home last time, would be in the gravest peril of an exit themselves were they to do so against a side who they have patently struggled to match in two successive knockout meetings.

That is irrelevant now; if Munster cannot execute today's result they have no business in even contemplating a sustained challenge for a title they last won in 2008.

Saracens are not breaking any rules, of course; the squad they have selected is fully compliant with the registered list lodged with the competition organisers. But their stance leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.

Speaking before the team announcement, the remarks of Munster coach Johann van Graan would surely have reverberated with the true sports fan, as he anticipated what should have been a mouth-watering fixture.

"That's what rugby is about, the top teams playing each other." Instead, it merely feels like shadow play. If anything, Munster, whose dramatically slashed odds of 1/3 reflect the now utterly imbalanced nature of what had been a potentially compelling competitive clash, should be eyeing a five-point haul.

Saracens plainly do not feel they need - or even want - to win. And in sport, that is the emptiest gesture of all.

Their squad, as we now know assembled without regard to the rules of their domestic competition, would still be regarded as strong, but the absence of Owen Farrell, Billy Vunipola, Jamie George, George Kruis and Elliot Daly tears the heart out of their side. Spineless Saracens, one could call them.

Tadhg Beirne starts in the Munster back-row for the first time since returning to Ireland, a switch perhaps linked to the ongoing development of the type of all-court game that will be required to break the glass ceiling in Europe.

There are growing pains, as the draw against Racing 92 clearly illustrated.

It's just a shame neutrals have been denied the opportunity to see them really tested today.

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