Wednesday 18 October 2017

O'Gara limps off as Munster begin campaign on back foot

Munster 22
Racing Metro 17

John Fallon

Munster could be without Ronan O'Gara next weekend as they bid to keep their Heineken Cup dream alive when they entertain Edinburgh at Thomond Park on Sunday in a must-win match

O'Gara limped off with a hamstring injury seven minutes from the break after Munster's early dominance was wiped out on a greasy pitch and constant rain.

Coach Rob Penney said it seemed unlikely O'Gara will recover in time, but he believes they can use the bonus point picked up yesterday to good effect as the pool develops. "History will tell you that the bonus point is invaluable. We will bank that from this game and move on to next week," Penney said.

Simon Zebo looked to have snatched victory for Munster when he dashed over for a superb try nine minutes from time at Stade de France.

Ian Keatley landed the difficult conversion to edge Munster 17-16 in front but they were unable to close out the deal in the dying moments and conceded two penalties.

"You have never won it until it is over but I thought we would have had enough ability to see it out," said Penney.

"We did well to get back into the game in the second half and I am proud the way they came back into it, but it is disappointing not to get the win in the end."

The return of Paul O'Connell helped Munster get on top up front in the opening quarter and he led a rampant pack which looked like they would have the game sown up by the break.

Sean Dougall burst through a weak defence to score under the posts after 15 minutes, with O'Gara's conversion opening up a 10-0 lead after he had slotted a ninth-minute penalty.

Then the wheels came off. Olly Barkley, who joined Racing in the summer from Bath, pulled back a penalty before O'Connell looked to have crowned his comeback with a try but the decision went against him with the TMO.

To rub salt in the wound, Racing got a huge break when a TMO decision went their way after it seemed that scrumhalf Maxime Machenaud had lost control of the ball when he went over after Doug Howlett and Keatley had failed to collect.

Barkley levelled with the conversion after 32 minutes and he edged them in front with a difficult penalty from the right just before the break after Casey Laulala's kick was blocked down by Karim Ghezal, who then seemed to be pulled back by Conor Murray as he raced for the line.

Munster needed to get on top after the restart but they found themselves unable to get out of their own half for long periods as Racing took the game to them.

Barkley's tactical kicking was superb and he constantly forced Munster onto the back foot.

The English international slotted another difficult penalty from the right after 51 minutes to extend Racing's lead, but then he missed one in front of the posts from 30 metres.

Munster did not capitalise on that break and Keatley was off target with a penalty from the left after 62 minutes.

Munster badly needed a score to gain momentum but with the conditions making it difficult to go wide, they got few opportunities.

All of that changed nine minutes from time. Munster turned over a Racing lineout in their own half and went on the offensive with Zebo cutting a superb line coming across from the right to spot a gap as Racing tried to man-mark the players outside him and he made it all the way to the line for an excellent try.

That left Munster trailing by a point but Keatley kept his nerve to steer the conversion between the posts from the left wing.

Munster then just needed to close out the deal but Murray got caught in two minds and tried to play the ball out of his own '22' but was nabbed and Racing forced the penalty. Barkley made no mistake with the kick from 25 metres on the left to restore the lead for the French.

Twice last year Munster salvaged Heineken Cup pool games with last-gasp O'Gara drop-goals but Racing regained possession from the restart.

They forced another penalty and, with Barkley receiving treatment, Mirco Bergamasco stepped forward in the final minute to slot the insurance score and leave Munster with just the consolation of a bonus point.

Scorers -- Racing Metro: M Machenaud try; O Barkley 4 pens, con, M Bergamasco pen. Munster: S Dougall, S Zebo try each; R O'Gara pen, con, I Keatley con.

Racing Metro: B Fall (V Vakatawa 67); J Jane, M Bergamasco, F Estebanez, J Saubade; O Barkley, M Machenaud; A Lo Cicero (E Ben Arous 67), D Szarzewski (T Bianchin 70), L Ducalcon (S Sa 55); K Ghezal, FC Van der Merwe (F Metz 60); A Battut (C Gerondeau 80), J Cronje, S Matadigo (B Le Roux 60).

Munster: I Keatley; D Howlett, C Laulala, J Downey, S Zebo; R O'Gara (D Hurley 34), C Murray; D Kilcoyne (M Horan 73), D Varley (M Sherry 55), BJ Botha; B Holland, P O'Connell (Dave O'Callaghan 64); D Ryan, S Dougall (P Butler, 71), P O'Mahony.

Referee: G Garner (RFU)

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