Mun­ster must cross the great fi­nan­cial di­vide

Racing 92 v Mun­ster U Arena, Paris, 3.15pm Sun­day, Sky Sports

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - RUGBY EUROPEAN CHAMPIONS CUP - GERRY THORN­LEY

As if Si­mon Zebo’s im­pend­ing de­par­ture to Racing 92, fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of Don­nacha Ryan, was not enough to high­light the gulf in spend­ing power be­tween the two, Mun­ster’s ven­ture into the U Arena to­mor­row as­suredly does.

The Parisian club’s new, en­closed, all-seated 32,000 ca­pac­ity sta­dium in Nan­terre in the west of Paris cost a whop­ping ¤360 mil­lion, thanks to the largesse of their bil­lion­aire president, Jacky Loren­zetti, founder of the real es­tate agency Fon­cia.

By con­trast, Racing’s play­ing ros­ter – vastly more ex­pen­sive to as­sem­ble than Mun­ster’s com­par­a­tively home- grown squad – is but a mere pit­tance, al­beit it is reck­oned that Loren­zetti spends sev­eral mil­lions of eu­ros at the end of each sea­son to mop up a chronic deficit.

This will be the first Euro­pean game to be held in the U Arena, Racing hav­ing hosted and beaten Toulouse and Cler­mont, ei­ther side of win­ning away to Oyan­nax. They thus be­come the first side ever to play four con­sec­u­tive games on 4G pitches, which adds fur­ther com­pli­ca­tions for Mun­ster against a Racing side which has won seven of their last eight Top 14 games.

Good health

In a strik­ing state­ment of their good health, and most un­usu­ally for a French side, their co-coaches Lau­rent Labit and Lau­rent Travers, have named an un­changed side – in­deed an un­changed match­day 23 – from the side which beat Cler­mont 58-6 last week. Their start­ing XV con­tains a dozen French in­ter­na­tion­als, with one of them, Rémi Tales, con­tin­u­ing to deputise for the in­jured Dan Carter.

Their Fi­jian Leone Nakarawa has again been picked at num­ber eight, and in tan­dem with Yan­nick Nyanga, un­der­lines their threat to the Mun­ster li­ne­out.

Jo­hann van Graan has high­lighted that threat this week, as well as “a long kick­ing game”, adding: “They frus­trate you and if you give them a bad kick, they pun­ish you. They’re very good around kick-off time, pick­ing through rucks and we will have to be clever around that.

“Prob­a­bly the most dif­fi­cult thing is how do you stop their off­loads?” adds van Graan.

Racing have av­er­aged al­most 13 per game in the pool stages, to Mun­ster’s six, and here again Nakarawa, aka Oc­to­pussy, leads the way with 14 off­loads in four games, not to men­tion his three tries.

“They’ve got a lot of height. Do you com­press? Be­cause if you com­press and they get it away, they’ve got speed on the out­side. Do you keep your width? Then they will pun­ish you on the in­side.

“But it’s great to be in­volved in games like this, ev­ery­body in­volved sees it as a great chal­lenge go­ing in there with great ex­cite­ment. To get a re­sult against Racing away from home will be a big re­sult for us.”

Racing have also shown a ca­pac­ity for racing into early leads which, crit­i­cally, Mun­ster need to stymie here.

In­deed, they are un­likely to dom­i­nate as they did in the cor­re­spond­ing away fix­ture last sea­son and, more likely, will need to re­tain their com­po­sure in weath­er­ing storms as they did at Welford Road last time out and re­peat their ex­cel­lence at the break­down that day.

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