No stopping Munster's march in Paris
Racing 92 7 Munster 32
A classic winter's day in Paris, freezing and wet, the sort where in times past Irish teams came expecting to go home sore and empty handed. And inevitably did. On this occasion it was the home side who arrived to this drab suburb - they don't like it much themselves - knowing they were on the support bill, and due to get a fair bit of grief from the main attraction.
And so it turned out. Racing could not be accused of opening the gate, and with a below full-strength side they defended in the first 40 minutes as if they had an interest in the business end of the competition. It's not easy when you're surviving on 30 per cent territory, conceding five times as many penalties, and making, in the first period alone, 14 more tackles than your opponents.
It looked painful for them, just as for Munster it came across as another well plotted and well written chapter in the story of a team going from strength to strength. The bonus point win leaves Rassie Erasmus's side in the driving seat, three points clear of Glasgow, who they visit next weekend. With another bonus point hard to miss when Racing come to Limerick Munster are in great nick, and a crowd of 9,233 turned up to witness it here yesterday.
Perhaps the best bit about Munster is the number of candidates in any game putting their hand up for man of the match. In an utterly dominant pack Donnacha Ryan sickened Racing with his ability to be the wrecking ball to their maul. Behind him there was a scramble between the back rowers to get the gong - Tommy O'Donnell's carrying started impressively in the first three minutes when setting up a great chance for Tyler Bleyendaal, and didn't waver until he went off in the second half - while at half-back Munster were unerringly sound. It's unclear if Conor Murray is a serious concern ahead of the Glasgow game at the weekend but Erasmus mentioned him alongside Andrew Conway as someone in line for treatment.
The only area of concern in yesterday's performance might have been the amount of energy they had to expend in the first half hour for a lead of just eight points. Typically Munster would pass up a shot on goal in favour of the corner only to come away short of the target. Maybe on another day a better-tooled up Racing would have been able to absorb the pressure and turn around confident of scoring more, quicker.
Rather, they hardly got a sniff of the air down the other end of the field. And when they came close they ran into a defence that was as accurate - important in these times of supposed zero tolerance of high hits - as it was aggressive.
It was 23 minutes before Munster got over the try-line, through the excellent Simon Zebo, by which point they were already a penalty in front thanks to Bleyendaal. A referral upstairs on a try claim from a James Cronin drive had come back negative three minutes earlier, so Munster needed something to reflect all their dominance. It came, as so much of Munster's advantage did, from the set-piece. Racing just couldn't get a look in: it was the 69th minute for example before they got their second put-in to a scrum. And the first had ended in a penalty.
With the scoreboard moving a bit more freely Munster looked happier, and on 34 minutes Bleyendaal tacked on another penalty before CJ Stander delivered a try that only CJ Stander delivers. It started with him blocking a clearance kick from Benjamin Dambrielle, and after a good carry from Rory Scannell, Stander was back on his feet and in the right place to receive and burst over - complete with a hefty hand off - from 40 metres. He is an awesome rugby player. And he was man of the match.
At 18-0 there was no way back for Racing, and they suffered again before the break. It was a beautifully conceived score: Murray drifted off the back of a ruck and grubbered perfectly for Andrew Conway to chase and score. It was as good as you'll get.
So all that remained in the second half was to quell any sign of uprising from the locals, and sort the bonus. And that was the sequence: Munster had to defend manfully in the opening minutes against the Racing maul, and succeeded, before lifting the siege and closing the deal.
It was 55 minutes when they tacked on the bonus extras, and fittingly it came from the maul. Racing had defended that phase aggressively throughout, but Munster did really well to control it long enough - it was their third penalty close to the line - for Niall Scannell to score.
Bleyendaal's conversion left Munster 32 points clear, and the only change was a try for Matthieu Voisin off a kick ahead. Conway probably would have been binned for pulling back Juan Imhoff if the TMO hadn't given a positive response. It mattered little. Munster are in fine fettle and within touching distance of the quarter-finals.
Scorers - Racing 92: Voisin try; Carter con. Munster: Zebo, Stander, Conway, Scannell try each; Bleyendaal 2 pens, 3 cons.
Racing 92: J Imhoff; J Rokocoko, C Laulala (H Chanvency 58), A Tuitavake, T Thomas (T Thomas 58); B Dambrielle (D Carter 12-18 HIA), X Chauveau; K Vartanov (J Bugnaut 51), C Chat (V Lacombe 51), L Ducalcon (C Gomes Sa 51), G Grobler, F van der Merwe (A Williams 62), C Masoe (capt) (S Fa'aso'o 58), A Claasen, M Voisin.
Munster: S Zebo; A Conway, J Taute (F Saili 56), R Scannell, R O'Mahony (K Earls 56); T Bleyendaal, C Murray (D Williams 66); J Cronin (D Kilcoyne 56), N Scannell (R Marshall 62), J Ryan (S Archer 66), D Ryan (D Foley 74), B Holland, P O'Mahony, CJ Stander, T O'Donnell (J O'Donoghue 48).
Referee: M Carley (England).
Sunday Indo Sport