Munster’s Rowntree warns off-field woes will spur Saracens on

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Saracens were docked 35 points by English Premiership bosses last month and fined more than £5.3 million (€6.3m) after being found guilty of breaches in the league’s salary cap. The point deduction has sent them to the foot of the Premiership table and into a fight for top-flight survival, but far from minimising their threat in Europe, Munster forwards coach Rowntree believes the controversy will spur the defending champions on further when they come to Limerick for a Pool 4 round three contest, the first of the back-to-back rounds that will the province go to north London in eight days.

Talking to Craig Doyle on BT Sport’s Rugby Tonight On Tour, which aired on Wednesday evening, Rowntree warned: “You’ve got to be on the money, on your mettle against Saracens.

“Whatever has happened off the field, I’m not going to get into that frankly because it’s just a distraction, but whatever’s happened, they’ll use it. That’s their DNA. They’ll use adversity.

“They are almost more of a threat, to me, with all that stuff going on because it’s more of a reason why, ‘well, we’ll show them why we’re champions’. So they are dangerous, probably more dangerous than ever.”

Munster No.8 CJ Stander does not consider Saracens’ problems as something that will affect him, his team or the contest this weekend.

“If I played in their league I would have said look, there is something different, but there is nothing in the European league that doesn’t give them that opportunity, so it doesn’t really affect me and I cannot really look at what they do,” Stander said.

“I can chat to a few friends I know there and people around but, for me, there is nothing I can do about it anyway, so it doesn’t really affect me at all. It’s something that’s in the game and I think they have enough problems and enough worries about it, so I am not going to add my worries to them.”

Saracens have twice beaten Munster in Champions Cup semi-finals, in Dublin in 2017 and last April in Coventry, both of them comprehensive and chastening experiences, and as a former forwards coach with Leicester Tigers, Harlequins, England and the British & Irish Lions, Rowntree is all too familiar with the strengths at Mark McCall’s disposal. Equally, he is aware that Thomond Park remains a fortress on European nights such as tomorrow.

Asked if Saracens have any weaknesses, he replied: “No. I don’t think so. They’re a tough team to beat, but so are we, especially at our gaffe. Full house, 5:30 on a Saturday night. It’s going to be a hell of a game.”

Rowntree, who joined Johann van Graan’s coaching ticket in October having assisted with Georgia at the World Cup, was blown away by his first Thomond Park European experience when his side drew with Racing 92 in round two last month. He has also enjoyed linking up with senior coach and former Australia attack coach Stephen Larkham, another newcomer to the Munster set-up.

“What I think Stephen has got us doing is challenging teams in areas where people don’t expect us to. I’ve really enjoyed my early days working with him. We complement each other well. We know what wins games and we know there are certain things you have to be good at every week and you have to cover every week but certainly you need someone in your group challenging the way you think about things.

“He challenges their skillset and when we get it right we’re tough to beat.”

Rowntree credits his players for that and he is enjoying his new life in the province.

“I’m getting used to the different dialects. You’ve got the Cork accent, there’s a lot of our lads from there and then you’ve got the local Limerick accent. I’m all right. Sometimes I have to say ‘slow down, just slow down’ but no, they’ve been very good to me.

“They love working hard. They love the craic and it feels like I’ve been here a long time. It feels like I should have been here a long time and I’d like to stay a long time. We’ll see.”

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