Friday 22 September 2017

Munster's emotions at pitch perfection

Racing 92 7 Munster 32

Simon Zebo celebrates Munster’s comprehensive victory over Racing 92 Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Simon Zebo celebrates Munster’s comprehensive victory over Racing 92 Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

They took the same journey this time, only a different path. All together as one, yet all together without someone.

Perhaps now, after leaving Paris for a second time in a few short months, Munster and their supporters can move on with a little more lightness in their hearts and less pressure in their heads.

"Just relieved," Rassie Erasmus kept on telling us afterwards. Not, you knew well, because the 80 minutes had left us all on the edge of our seats, rather because everyone knew we would have to return here someday and, well, there is no certainty when it comes to coping.

"It's been tough," he added, as his side delivered the performance they were threatening in October before Anthony Foley's untimely passing.

"It sounds like we're bullet-proof. We're not. I'm just proud. And relieved.

"I thought coming over here before that we were close to a performance. On that Friday, the two of us discussed about playing these French boys and his thinking was so clear.

"He said the way they bring on even bigger French boys after 50 or 60 minutes, you just can't get into an arm-wrestle for 80 minutes, as you will probably struggle size-wise and momentum-wise.

"I won't say I am sure we would have got a result then, but I'm sure we would have got a good performance. So I'm so glad and relieved. Just for that fact, because I know Axel was right in what he was trying to say. And we tried to play that way today.

"Everybody can be proud of our guys and also for Axel because that is how he would have encouraged them to play the game."

Foley's thesis was simply that Munster couldn't fail to be themselves. Rather than try to emulate someone else, if they played their own game and worked more and ran faster and tackled harder, then who knew where it might take them?

Recent weeks have delivered comprehensive answers.

This was indeed classic away-day Munster, ending a run of losses on French soil that had threatened to emulate the dark days of the 1990s; defensively solid, offensively clinical and backed by a superlative set-piece.

Munster hit everything that moved and most of what did not. Racing, admittedly, were so dire that they were reduced to stationary impotence at times.

Three tries before half-time - from Simon Zebo (his 50th and Munster's 400th in Europe), an astonishing effort from perpetual man of the match CJ Stander and a stunning Conor Murray designed score for Andrew Conway - more than ended the debate.

Stretch

Of the last six home games Racing had won in Europe, their average margin of victory was 27 points; to be already 25 down at the break screamed humiliation and one wondered if their energies could even stretch that far.

Munster have expended theirs in many unprecedented directions of late, but their slavish devotion to task has energised their spirits and matured them.

"It was tough at times, but the team is pretty emotionally intelligent and mature," Erasmus pointed out.

"But I think this whole episode, if I can put it that way, as a team they have done really well.

"Sometimes for me they have made it easy, I could see that right off. I saw them do things where I think they were sometimes concerned for me and sometimes I was concerned for them."

Nothing surprises them any more. Erasmus cancelled Friday's walk-through prep session in Cork, instead deciding to stage it at the stadium on the morning of the game.

They never had a warm-up or even stood on the pitch in October and so he was conscious that some players might need to be warmed to the shock of returning to the stadium.

Some of the relief Erasmus and others felt was purely that of establishing their true position in Pool One. These five points confirmed their control, but only victory in Scotstoun next Saturday can assert it.

With Tommy O'Donnell snagging his ankle knock to join Andrew Conway and Conor Murray as concerns, only cautious optimism prevails.

"Glasgow is a totally different kettle of fish, not that they're better than Racing or anything. They just play all-out attack, with a mobile forward pack," said Erasmus.

"They contest well at lineout and breakdown so it is definitely a different challenge. You might want to get involved in an arm-wrestle with them!

"What we have learned from Axel's death is you 'don't look at the next thing' with a negative view. We don't moan about three Euro games in three weeks or injuries. We just have to get on."

And why not, when it has got them this far.

Racing 92 - J Imhoff; J Rokocoko, C Laulala (H Chavancy 57), T Tuitavake, T Thomas (D Carter 57); B Dambielle, X Chauveau; K Vartanov (J Brugnaut 50), C Chat (V Lacombe 50), L Ducalcon (C Gomes Sa 50), G Grobler, F van der Merwe (A Williams 63), C Masoe capt (S Fa'aso'o 57), M Voisin, A Claassen.

Munster - S Zebo; A Conway, J Taute (F Sailli 56), R Scannell, R O'Mahony (K Earls 56) T Bleyendaal, C Murray (D Williams 67); J Cronin (D Kilcoyne 56), N Scannell (R Marshall 63), J Ryan (S Archer 66), D Ryan (D Foley 74), B Holland, P O'Mahony, T O'Donnell (J O'Donoghue 48), CJ Stander.

Referee - M Carley (RFU).

Irish Independent

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