Friday 21 July 2017

Stander plays starring role as Munster secure Thomond tie

Munster 22 Racing 92 10

CJ Stander breaks clear from Henry Chavancy. Photo: Sportsfile
CJ Stander breaks clear from Henry Chavancy. Photo: Sportsfile
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

A good 90 minutes before kick-off yesterday the roads to the stadium were flooded with the red tide. It was like a St Stephen's Day fixture that had escaped into mid-January. Everyone was on a day out, and you would have struggled to find any opposition to the notion that a European campaign that had stalled in tragic circumstances in Paris in October was about to finish with a five-point flourish, and a place high up the pecking order in the quarter-finals.

The only complication was that Racing, playing the role of the fall guys in this script, had selected enough quality to perhaps ad lib a bit themselves. And given that their entourage included Ronan O'Gara, whose career was carved out of making Munster great in this competition, they might do something untoward.

Dave Kilcoyne breaks through the tackle of Franck Pourteau. Photo: Sportsfile
Dave Kilcoyne breaks through the tackle of Franck Pourteau. Photo: Sportsfile

O'Gara would have been pleased enough with the effort, just as Munster would have been relieved that they finished ahead of Saracens on points difference, thus making the try bonus redundant. They will be at home in the quarters against the second best qualifier.

"It was a good, hard game," O'Gara said. "I was afraid they were going to get away from us in the second half but in fairness to our boys they hung in there. We've learned a lot in the last few weeks."

Had you dialled your local turf accountant on the morning of the game - a beautifully bright and crisp morning - and asked for odds on the game being scoreless with three minutes to go to half-time he would have quoted you fairly long odds.

For Munster, nothing was going horribly wrong but neither was anything quite on the money, and they looked a bit drained from the huge effort of three European games back to back in recent weeks. Their scrum was far better but it was at the lineout where they chose to splinter Racing. Given their success at this phase a couple of weeks ago, that made sense.

21 January 2017; Ronan O'Mahony of Munster scores his side's second try during the European Rugby Champions Cup Pool 1 Round 6 match between Munster and Racing 92 at Thomond Park in Limerick. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
21 January 2017; Ronan O'Mahony of Munster scores his side's second try during the European Rugby Champions Cup Pool 1 Round 6 match between Munster and Racing 92 at Thomond Park in Limerick. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

This time however, whether it was Racing's improved defence or Munster's disimproved maul, it just wasn't happening. For the first quarter the Paris side had more of the territory, and with it enough pressure for captain Maxime Machenaud to leave short a kickable penalty on 13 minutes.

Despite suffering on the territory front though Munster didn't look like conceding a try. Neither did they look like scoring one. They spent almost the entire second quarter in or around the Racing 22, before eventually getting over through Simon Zebo.

First, however, came any amount of grunt work. On 28 minutes they got Conor Murray over the line with a gridiron-like dive over the top of a breakdown, but the TMO knocked it back, which seemed fair enough. Then man of the match CJ Stander ran over the top of out-half Benjamin Dambielle, off good lineout ball, and by the time the number eight was hauled down, a couple of metres short, Dambielle was back to hop on Murray, who didn't have the ball.

Understandably he wanted to make up for the earlier missed tackle, but not like that. Yellow card. Yet Racing hung on without him, and a lovely pass from Etienne Dusartre to Marc Andreu just before the break saw the wing get to within a few metres of the Munster line.

Ian Keatley celebrates with team-mate Rory Scannell after scoring Munster's third try. Photo: Sportsfile
Ian Keatley celebrates with team-mate Rory Scannell after scoring Munster's third try. Photo: Sportsfile

Racing couldn't react fast enough to make it pay, but they did get a penalty from the position a minute later, which Machenaud converted. A 7-3 scoreline at half-time would have been acceptable on Racing's wishlist, and you'd imagine most of their chat at the break centred on the need to score first in the second half.

Instead that was Tyler Bleyendaal's happy duty, after he had been high tackled by Leone Nakarawa. So with a 10-3 lead and the air of a team full of resolve about them, Munster went up a gear. Their modus operandi was still to try and smash Racing close enough to the set-piece or breakdown, but there was more venom and accuracy to it.

It also provided some ball for Ronan O'Mahony on the left wing. In the space of two minutes he had a score ruled out by the TMO, and one given when he did well to hold a dipping pass from Rory Scannell to touch down in the corner. Immediately you thought Munster would pull away but they were pegged back by a Henry Chavency try before replacement Ian Keatley scored off a lovely offload from Andrew Conway.

With nine minutes left the bonus point hovered over the Mayorstone end and the crowd were baying for it, but Munster needed no more than to keep their distance. And they did that.

Scorers - Munster: Zebo, O'Mahony, Keatley try each; Bleyendaal pen, 2 cons. Racing 92: Chavancy try, Machenaud pen, con
Munster: S Zebo (I Keatley 70); A Conway, J Taute (F Saili 48), R Scannell, R O'Mahony; T Bleyendaal, C Murray (D Williams 71); J Cronin (D Kilcoyne 13), N Scannell (R Marshall 62), J Ryan (T du Toit 68; J Ryan 73), D Ryan, J Kleyn (B Holland 52)P O'Mahony (capt), CJ Stander, T O'Donnell
Racing 92: B Dulin; T Thomas, H Chavancy, E Dussartre (A Vulivuli 63), M Andreu; B Dambielle (yc 30-40)(F Pourteau 63), M Machenaud (capt)(J Hart 74); E Ben Arous (J Brugnaut 55), C Chat, B Tameifuna (C Gomes Ca 31; B Tameifuna 77)), M Carizza, L Nakarawa (A Williams 66), Y Nyanga (C Masoe 65), S Fa'aso'o, M Voisin
Referee: M Mitrea (Italy)

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