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Saracens rugby boss wary of Williams as Munster lose Murray

AFP

Dublin (AFP) -

Saracens supremo Mark McCall believes Munster's Duncan Williams is more than capable of making up for the absence of star scrum-half Conor Murray when they meet in a European Champions Cup semi-final in Dublin on Saturday.

Murray was missing Friday from the Munster side named to face title-holders Saracens, also the reigning English champions, at Lansdowne Road.

The 27-year-old half-back has not played since suffering a nerve injury affecting his shoulder and neck area against Wales in the Six Nations on March 10.

Despite that, he was included in the British and Irish Lions squad named Wednesday for the upcoming tour of New Zealand, having helped the combined side to a series win in Australia four years ago.

But Lions boss Warren Gatland made it clear Murray would have to play before the end of the European season to secure his tour place.

"For me it is impossible to say when he (Murray) will be back," explained Munster director of rugby Rassie Erasmus after the squad's final pre-match training session at Lansdowne Road on Friday.

"Until he has all his strength and power back, with no pain any more, then he will be able to play. Hopefully he can get a few games in before the Lions series."

The South African added: "It is frustrating for him and for us but unfortunately he is not ready for us."

Earlier this week, McCall forecast the Ireland star would be fit for the semi-final but, speaking on Friday, he said: "Our preparation was for either scenario.

"The thing about Duncan is that he's phenomenally experienced. 

"People think he's not, but he is. He's 31-years-old and got a hundred and something caps for Munster. He had a really strong game against Toulouse (in Munster's quarter-final win) and he's actually got a very strong kicking game."

Erasmus had no qualms over Williams, saying: "The most important thing is what he does on the field and he has been performing really well. And off the field he is contributing like a senior player should."

Irish province Munster will be roared on by their passionate fans at Lansdowne Road on Saturday.

"We've said in the week that we've played a lot of these occasions and we've got some experience in the bank, but I think the truth is tomorrow (Saturday) that experience eventually doesn't count unless we produce during the 80 minutes and we'll get what we deserve," explained former Ireland centre McCall.

- 'Savouring the moment' -

Saracens, however, have bucked the trend in European club rugby by winning high-profile matches away from home in recent seasons.

"We prepare the same for every team, we give them the same respect," said Saracens captain Brad Barritt.

The ex-England centre added that spending the early years of professionalism playing home games in front of modest crowds at Vicarage Road, as tenants of Premier League football club Watford, explained much of the London club's success on the road. 

"I think it probably stemmed back from our early days at Vicarage Road when, to be honest, we didn't have much of an atmosphere or crowd to support us, so we always thrive on going to these big occasions in front of hostile crowds and savouring the moment," he said.

"Tomorrow is going to be one I'm sure we will remember for a long time."

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