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

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Rugby - Gerry Thorn­ley at Stade Cha­ban-Del­mas

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.

Fresher

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

of Athenry.

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.

Big in­roads

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.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: JAMES CROMBIE/INPHO

Rac­ing 92’s Teddy Thomas scores his sec­ond try in the Cham­pi­ons Cup semi-fi­nal against Mun­ster at Stade Cha­ban-Del­mas in Bordeaux.

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