Down and all but out in Paris as Rac­ing de­liver fast fin­ish

Mun­ster need a lot of re­sults to go their way if they are reach the last eight

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Front Page - In Paris Top 12 seeds As it stands In­side

Per­haps it takes a rare set­back to ap­pre­ci­ate Mun­ster’s ex­tra­or­di­nary con­sis­tency in the Heineken Cham­pi­ons Cup. For just the fourth time in the last 22 years, they stand on the brink of be­ing elim­i­nated in the pool stages af­ter Rac­ing’s 39-22 win over the prov­ince in the Paris La De­fense Arena yes­ter­day.

The net ef­fect means Rac­ing have topped Pool 4 and se­cured a place in the quar­ter-fi­nals. They may need a win to en­sure a home quar­ter-fi­nal, and Mun­ster will need them to beat Sara­cens in Al­lianz Park next Sun­day to have any chance of fin­ish­ing run­ners-up.

Even then they will need two of the sec­ond-placed sides in the other pools to slip up next week, ie two from Northampto­n away to Lyon, Glas­gow away to Sale or Glouces­ter away to Toulouse. In all like­li­hood, their goose will have been cooked come kick-off at home to the Ospreys next Sun­day.

“We might get lucky, we might sneak in off the back end,” said Jo­hann van Graan in a rare note of op­ti­mism in the wake of this de­feat. “The only thing we can con­trol is our per­for­mance at Thomond Park next Sun­day and I would like to be­lieve we will per­form like we did tonight.”

In so many ways Rac­ing ap­pear to be op­er­at­ing at a dif­fer­ent level. Long af­ter the fi­nal whis­tle many of their sup­port­ers, in what had been, ac­tu­ally, a sparse enough at­ten­dance dis­guised by the dark­ened up­per tier, were still ca­vort­ing to the rhyth­mic beats of dance mu­sic at the far end of the ground from the gi­ant screen which is re­served for the post-match party.

Bil­lion­aire

Rac­ing’s per­for­mance, like the cin­e­matic, in­door La De­fense Arena, was un­der­pinned by their bil­lion­aire backer Jackie Loren­zetti, whose pro­duc­tion of fine wines would go well with the man­tle of Euro­pean cham­pi­ons.

What­ever the vast dis­crep­ancy in the re­spec­tive bud­gets, it had been ev­i­denced in the ridicu­lous car­ry­ing and of­fload­ing game of Vir­imi Vakatawa, the fin­ish­ing of those arch poach­ers Teddy Thomas and Juan Imhoff, and then, with Mun­ster still man­fully keep­ing the game in the bal­ance, the power off their bench.

Go­ing into the last 10 min­utes be­fore Rac­ing’s three-try salvo, Mun­ster’s per­for­mance showed they may have a good team, but have noth­ing like the strength in depth of their hosts. Throw in the fi­nan­cial clout of Sara­cens, whose breach of the salary cap casts a cloud over their back-to-back ti­tles and prospec­tive pres­ence in the quar­ters. Mun­ster’s group was some­thing of a fi­nan­cial mis­match.

“It’s hard to be think­ing about it now,” said a bit­terly dis­ap­pointed Peter O’Ma­hony, “but this group has al­ways had huge be­lief and you talk fi­nan­cially but we al­ways have some­thing dif­fer­ent in that we have a huge group of play­ers who have come from the prov­ince and who have come through our academy sys­tems.

“It al­ways has made a dif­fer­ence and we’ve al­ways com­ple­mented that by sign­ing some ex­cel­lent play­ers from over­seas and we have that mix now, and that’s al­ways a dan­ger­ous mix, the guys who we have there and sign­ing well, which we have done.

“We’ll con­tinue to do so and that’s what makes our club spe­cial, is what I’ve just said. They didn’t all come from Rac­ing. It’s a dif­fer­ent dy­namic. We need to change some things. We need to do things bet­ter. As Jo­hann said we need to take our chances, that’s the 15 guys on the pitch. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

Team

Le­in­ster (Q)

Rac­ing (Q)

Ex­eter (Q)

Toulouse (Q)

Cler­mont (q)

Ul­ster

Sara­cens

Glouces­ter

Northampto­n

Glas­gow

Mun­ster

La Rochelle 24 22 22 22 20 17 14 14 14 12 11 10 +105 +71 +62 +56 +86 +15 +30 +21 -29 -12 0 -20

“It’s a dif­fer­ent ball game if you score af­ter 60 min­utes and you go nine points ahead. They’re chas­ing a lit­tle bit and as you see when you chase a game you can make mis­takes against guys like that and they pun­ish you straight away. There’s lit­tle im­prove­ments that we can make that will make us bet­ter next week­end, not next sea­son. So that’s our fo­cus now.”

If it tran­spires that Mun­ster don’t make the quar­ter-fi­nals, it won’t have been en­tirely be­cause of events here. They left three points be­hind when JJ Han­ra­han, who kicked su­perbly here and played very tidily, missed a last-minute drop goal in the drawn match with Rac­ing and they de­clined a shot at goal for a bonus point in the loss at Sara­cens.

But for that, they’d still have their des­tiny in their own hands, just about.

Clin­i­cal

“You’ve seen how­ever long this com­pe­ti­tion has been go­ing it’s about grab­bing what you can get,” ad­mit­ted O’Ma­hony. “You’ve seen those things and that point has made all the dif­fer­ence. Again, we prob­a­bly weren’t clin­i­cal enough at home against th­ese guys. You can’t just say tonight was the rea­son we won’t qual­ify but again we’ll en­deav­our to per­form next week­end.

“That’s paramount for us now. It’s hard tonight but we will re­group and put a plan to­gether for next week­end. It’s go­ing to mean a huge amount to us to per­form next week­end.”

Ear­lier in the day, Le­in­ster ce­mented their grip on the top seed­ing in the last eight with a six-try, 42-14 win over Lyon at the RDS.

A vic­tory of any kind, in their tricky trek to Tre­viso next Satur­day, will en­sure them of that top seed­ing and with it both a home quar­ter-fi­nal and, should they win that tie, home coun­try ad­van­tage in the semi-fi­nals as well.

There is a chance that should Sara­cens beat Rac­ing at home next Sun­day, and the reign­ing cham­pi­ons go into that game ef­fec­tively know­ing that a win, with a bonus point, ought to en­sure as much, Le­in­ster will meet them in a re­peat of last sea­son’s fi­nal.

More likely though, on the premise that Toulouse com­plete a sixth win in six – af­ter end­ing Con­nacht’s feisty com­pet­i­tive­ness in the com­pe­ti­tion in Gal­way on Satur­day – by beat­ing Glouces­ter in the fi­nal round of games next Sun­day af­ter­noon, Sara­cens would then ad­vance as the sec­ond best run­ners-up, or in other words the sev­enth seeds.

In that sce­nario, al­beit on the pre­sump­tion that Northampto­n beat Lyon away next week, Le­in­ster may meet their east mid­land pool ri­vals again in the quar­ters.

‘Fresh and new’

Who­ever they face, Le­in­ster’s front­line team will not play to­gether again be­tween next week’s trek to Italy and the quar­ter-fi­nals as, un­help­fully, they have a two-week trek af­ter the Six Na­tions to South Africa in the Pro14.

“That’s just the way it’s geared up, which is great in many ways,” said Leo Cullen. “It keeps it fresh and new. The two weeks prior to the quar­ter-fi­nal we’re in South Africa, so that’s the lead-in that we’ll have. There are lots of things that we’ll need to con­sider, but for now it’s just a six-day turn­around into Tre­viso and how we man­age that.”

Mun­ster’s de­feat yes­ter­day had echoes of Ul­ster’s loss in Cler­mont Au­vergne on Satur­day, a vic­tory which means Cler­mont can seal first place in the pool by win­ning in Har­lequins next Satur­day.

But at least Ul­ster know that, as the best sec­ond-placed side, a vic­tory at home to Bath on Satur­day is guar­an­teed to en­sure the best run­ners-up slot and sixth place seed­ing. With that would come an away quar­ter-fi­nal against, pos­si­bly, Toulouse or Ex­eter.

“That’s our job,” said Klopp. “We go for the big­gest prize. If we can get that by play­ing here a bit of foot­ball and there a bit of foot­ball that would not be in­ter­est­ing for me. You have to give your all and that’s what we do.

“I said to the boys that they looked a lit­tle bit too ex­hausted in this game, but we are hu­mans and hu­mans are weak. But later we are sat in the dress­ing room and ev­ery­body was still alive and still breath­ing, so there is still more to come and that is what we have to ask of our­selves.”

‘Still learn­ing’

That is a sen­ti­ment shared by the cap­tain, Jor­dan Hen­der­son, who af­ter the win against Spurs de­scribed Liver­pool as a team that are “still de­vel­op­ing and still learn­ing”, while from Andy Robert­son came the in­sis­tence that no one within the squad is pre­sum­ing they will def­i­nitely end Liver­pool’s 30-year wait for a league cham­pi­onship this sea­son.

“This league is so hard,” said the left-back. “Maybe we’ve made it look easy but it’s not – it’s so hard to per­form against ev­ery team that wants to beat you. The longer the run goes on, the more ev­ery­one wants to beat you.”

The next team seek­ing to beat Liver­pool are their most bit­ter ri­vals. Manch­ester United visit An­field on Sun­day as the only side to have taken points off the lead­ers this sea­son, hav­ing drawn 1-1 with them at Old Trafford in Oc­to­ber.

Yet few ex­pect them to do so again and es­pe­cially as Liver­pool could be bol­stered by the re­turn of Fabinho. The in­flu­en­tial Brazil­ian mid­fielder has been out since Novem­ber with an­kle lig­a­ment dam­age but was back train­ing last week and could make his re­turn to ac­tion at the week­end.

“My an­kle is bet­ter,” Fabinho told French TV. “I am touch­ing the ball again, I feel good and I feel con­fi­dent.”

Asked if Liver­pool were go­ing to win the ti­tle, the player also broke the party line by sim­ply re­ply­ing: “Yes”. That may not go down well with his man­ager and team-mates.– Guardian

Rac­ing had nine clean breaks com­pared to Mun­ster’s two at La De­fense Arena yes­ter­day

Mun­ster’s Niall Scan­nell con­tem­plates their plight af­ter yes­ter­day’s loss to Rac­ing 92 at Paris La De­fense Arena.

Agüero eclipses Henry as top over­seas scorer: Page 5

■ Jür­gen Klopp: ‘You have to give your all and that is what we do’

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