Racing start leaves Munster with too much ground to make up
Munster flourish comes too late as French side set up date with Leinster Racing utterly out-master Van Graan’s side at the breakdown
Something of a Groundhog Day for Munster. This sixth successive semi-final defeat in the European Champions Cup was as anti-climactic as any of the previous five, not because Leinster were waiting in the final, but rather like Saturday’s game, this was pretty much done and dusted by the end of the first quarter.
By that stage, Teddy Thomas had romped in for two tries and only passed up a hat-trick when virtually handing the touchdown to his skipper Maxime Machenaud. Racing were that comfortable, and it left Munster with a mountain to climb. They never stopped trying to scale it, but by the time it came into view it was too late.
Whether 10 flights in the last three weeks had caught up with Munster, they looked drained to begin with, before ironically finishing the stronger. There were water breaks midway through each half but they provided little relief for Munster. It was a measure of their pain and suffering in the heat and humidity that they’d introduced six of their bench by the 53rd minute.
They made the best of it, which in some respects further raised question marks about the change at hooker and omitting Simon Zebo in the starting line-up. Munster failed to execute any of five attacking lineouts, losing four and only retrieving one. Their lineout improved after Rhys Marshall’s introduction but even then two were lost on his watch also.
Racing looked fresher and stronger; winning collisions and utterly out-mastering Munster at the breakdown. They also benefitted from JP Doyle’s infuriating refereeing. Yet, ironically, it was Munster who finished the stronger, scoring three tries in the last quarter. Zebo and Marshall scored one each, and Zebo created another for Andrew Conway.
The Stade Chaban Delmas was bedecked in mostly red and more light blue than had been anticipated. The teams were greeted with deafening chants of ‘Mun-ster, Mun-ster’ before the Red Army bellowed out their first offering of The Fields
Munster had the game’s first try chance, but Wayne Barnes spotted a foot in touch by Niall Scannell after gathering a return pass from the front of the line. Munster survived one close-range lineout when Ian Keatley pounced on a loose tap down by a stretching Wenceslas Lauret at the tail, but back came Racing from another lineout 40 metres out.
On and on they went, mixing it up with pick-and-jams and one-off runners, then went wide to Louis Dupichot, before further carries by Leone Nakarawa and Lauret led to Machenaud and Virimi Vakatawa going wide for Thomas to beat Alex Wootton on the outside in the fifth minute. Machenaud even landed the touchline conversion.
Keatley missed a penalty to touch and, after Wootton gathered a poor cross kick by Pat Lambie, Conway and Rory Scannell countered before Keatley scuffed a drop goal and Niall Scannell was wide with another. After a combination of Jean Kleyn and Keith Earls retrieved a Murray box kick, Nakarawa was pinged for offside and Keatley at least opened Munster’s account. However, Racing struck again with ease. Munster fans were outraged Peter O’Mahony wasn’t awarded a penalty when latching onto the ball. Then, when Racing went wide right again, Vakatawa stepped inside Conor Murray and fended Kleyn to put Thomas over for his second.
Cue the game’s first water break, but worse followed for Munster when David Kilcoyne was driven back in the tackle by Cedate Gomes Sa, before Henry Chavancy made big inroads from an offload by Eddy Ben Arous. With Munster stretched once more, Thomas stepped Wootton and O’Mahony to round the posts, even popping the ball to Machenaud for the touchdown. When CJ Stander brought down the ensuing maul, Machenaud made it 24-3.
Munster finished the half strongly, but were rattled. Twice their lineout couldn’t execute under pressure. Passes went to ground, and they went wide wildly. Sam Arnold was held up over the line after a tap and run by Murray, but from the half’s final play off a scrum, Nakatawa latched on for the penalty to preserve their 24-3 lead into the interval.
After the break Murray was penalised for dumping Marc Andreu over the touchline and Machenaud landed the penalty. They replaced the entire frontrow, and brought on Zebo for Wootton, with Conway switching to the right wing and Earls to the left. They immediately looked better, with Zebo involved heavily. Marshall’s first throw also hit O’Mahony when they went to the corner, and Marshall was denied a try by Doyle when the referee deemed he himself had blocked. To a backdrop of La Marseillaise and then Stand Up and Fight, Munster had another attacking lineout pinched, and hammered away at the Racing line, where Dan Carter made try-saying tackles on Rory Scannell and Arnold before O’Mahony was held up over the line. After Andreu was binned for repeated Racing offsides, Murray fed Zebo with a long pass and he wriggled through Chavancy’s tackle to score.
Murray even launched a daring counter off the restart, Gerbrandt Grobler demonstrating his handling skills before Conway made ground, and when the ball was swept left Doyle ruled a long miss pass by Zebo to Robin Copeland forward.
A very debatable call without recourse to the video. Munster lost another attacking lineout, before Marshall located Grobler and scored off a patient drive, JJ Hanrahan converting.
They even had another try in overtime, when Zebo grubbered into acres of space for Conway to score adroitly.
Zebo was given a special ovation, as was Donnacha Ryan, and after they chanted his name Zebo threw his boots into the Red Army.
Racing 92’s Teddy Thomas scores his second try in the Champions Cup semi-final against Munster at Stade Chaban-Delmas in Bordeaux.