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We can raid Sarries' fortress if we stick to our beliefs, says Van Graan

Huge test: Saracens have lost just once in Europe at Allianz Park
Huge test: Saracens have lost just once in Europe at Allianz Park

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

Situated between the M1 motorway, a nine-hole golf club and Hendon Cemetery, the Barnet Copthall Leisure Centre isn't one of Europe's most iconic venues.

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And yet, within the complex is Allianz Park; a disorderly collection of crumbling old structures and temporary stands, replete with food trucks and a running track surrounding an artificial surface that has become the most feared venue in the Heineken Champions Cup.

The fans are not known for their intimidating welcomes, but the home team are the fearsome outfit on the circuit right now and, while they have been embroiled in controversy since the end of the World Cup, Saracens are ready for Munster this weekend.

Since December 2013 - having previously hosted teams at Watford's Vicarage Road, Wembley Stadium and Brussels - the Londoners have played 21 European matches at the ground.

They've won 20, succumbing to Clermont in the midst of their worst run during this period of unprecedented success.

Across those 20 victories, which include three home quarter-finals and games against most of the tournament's heavyweights - except Leinster - they've had an average winning margin of 27 points and crossed the 50-point mark seven times.

Munster were last in Barnet in January 2015 during Anthony Foley's first season in charge and were well beaten 33-10.

If Munster are to beat them this weekend, and it could be argued they need to, they must be at their very best and hope Mark McCall's men are below theirs.

The problem for Munster is that, while they have shown signs of improvement, they are still bedding in their internationals as they integrate the new ideas from coaches Stephen Larkham and Graham Rowntree.

Munster head coach Johann van Graan said: "As a coaching group we spoke about it, the players that went to the World Cup are only here for four weeks, this is their fifth week.

"Two new coaches in and, like I said at the beginning of the season, you wish that you were already a year down the track.

"We're only a month down the track. There's still a long way to go in terms of perfection.

"To beat Saracens away you need close to the perfect performance. They've played something like 20 games in Europe in Allianz Park and lost only once against Clermont in 2017. They just don't lose there."

Although it's four years since their last visit, Munster have lost two of the last three semi-finals to the current champions, who are expected to name a strong team for the return fixture having rested their big guns for the trip to Limerick.

"Last year in Europe, Saracens didn't concede between minutes 40-60 through nine games," Van Graan explained. "To keep them scoreless for 40 minutes, we took that as a massive positive."

In their next two European games, Munster face the two teams who have beaten them well in the last three Champions Cup finals.

Having drawn at home with Racing 92 and taken only a 4-1 share of the points from their home match against Saracens, they need a big result on a foreign field in tough conditions.

"We said when the draw came out that (Saracens) are a team we haven't won against since 2014 and we've done that over the weekend," Van Graan said.

"To go away to a team like Saracens is a massive challenge. The important thing is to stick to the process."

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