Andrew Conway the hero as Munster battle back to snatch dramatic draw with Racing 92
Munster 21 Racing 92 21
After the shameful no-show by Clermont in Belfast on Friday night this was a contest welcomed as much by EPCR as by fans of French rugby.
Yes, the first was played in the sort of weather that seems inseparable from games at that time in that part of the world; the second in perfect conditions, but without the preparedness to discommode yourself in search of the right result you have nothing. And Clermont had nothing. Racing on the other hand came to play and to compete. Against a side still very much in touch with the wonders of the Heineken Cup, that set the stage.
So from the moment referee Matt Carley drew back the curtain we knew we were in for circa 90 minutes of compelling football. By the time the curtain came down honours were even. You would have got long odds on that in the third quarter after Juan Imhoff’s try had put them 21-14 ahead on 49 minutes, but Munster battled back to make it a thrilling finish. They had a chance to win it at the death - will have been satisfied to get a share. For a long time in the second half they had been spectating, which was at odds with their intent.
The last few minutes before the break summed it up. With five minutes to the changeover Racing – leading 14-6 – survived a TMO exam on JJ Hanrahan’s surge for the line. And promptly took play off the restart deep into Munster territory. Had they worked another three points at that point it would have given real stability to how they could approach the second half. Instead the eight point lead would be cut to five.
Its starting point was with a Niall Scannell tackle on Juan Imhoff – hanging on to the Puma’s boot and winning a penalty for not releasing. That gave Munster a platform for territory, and even if the lineout delivery from that was poor their use of it was not. They got around the corner and then between Conor Murray, Hanrahan and Earls combined in a tight space for the wing to squeeze past his old buddy Simon Zebo to score in the corner. Outstanding.
It was in keeping with most of what we had been treated to up to that point. Racing had the better set-piece, and did real damage to Munster’s lineout leaving them with either no ball or hard-to-use ball. Donnacha Ryan had done his homework. And their game-breakers, Finn Russell and Teddy Thomas, were not wasting opportunities.
When the out-half had been handed a penalty advantage on 19 minutes he did as bid – a lovely little grubber beat Rory Scannell, who had seemed harshly penalised in the first place, and scored by the posts. Teddy Iribaren, who was a late pre-match replacement for Maixime Machenaud, tapped over the extras, and did the same with a trickier kick 10 minutes later for Thomas’s try. Iribaren had created it with a lovely little snipe and cut-out pass down the short-side to put the wing away.
In the interim Munster had been busy themselves. Chris Farrell was a constant source of go-forward ball, and Hanrahan was varying his game really well. But their forwards were always a heartbeat behind the away pack, even if the possession and territory was mostly in the red side of the equation.
All they had to show for it though was Hanrahan’s penalty to open the account on nine minutes, and another on 27 minutes just before Thomas’s try. Not much return for a team not playing badly, but up against one playing very well.
If Racing had not got a bit slack in the third quarter – Hanrahan squared the game 14-14 on 46 minutes - it would have been all over there and then. Imhoff scored a fantastic try after a break from Russell to make it 21-14, but with their increasing dominance they became casual and put down two really good chances to add to their score, and didn’t look too worried about it. But they looked more concerned when eventually the momentum shifted, and Racing were defending close to their own line.
It had followed a long period where the game seemed glued to a few spots around the edge of Munster’s 22. Different battle ground gave the contest a different feel. Munster went close with a great pass from Rory Scannell to Andrew Conway but Racing survived. A few minutes later it was Hanrahan making a similar pass to the same man, after a sustained bout of pressure, and this time he got over. Hanrahan converted from the touchline, but couldn’t do the same with a drop goal attempt to seal the game. They’ll be happy to share the points.
Munster: M Haley; A Conway, C Farrell, R Scannell, K Earls; JJ Hanrahan, C Murray (A Mathewson 62); J Loughman (J Cronin 50), N Scannell (K O’Byrne 65), J Ryan (S Archer 54), J Kleyn (F Wycherley 54), T Beirne (B Holland 62), P O’Mahony (Capt), CJ Stander, J O’Donoghue (A Botha 54)
Racing: S Zebo; T Thomas (B Dulin 64), V Vakatawa, H Chavency (capt), J Imhoff; F Russell, T Iribaren (A Gilbert 80) E Ben Arous (H Kolingar 55), C Chat (T Baubigny 55), C Gomes SA, D Ryan (F Sanconnie 58), D Bird, W Lauret, A Claasen (Y Tanga 80), B Palu
Referee: M Carley (England)
Scorers – Munster 21 (K Earls, A Conway try each; JJ Hanrahan 3 pens, con Racing (F Russell , T Thomas, J Imhoff try each; T Iribaren 3 cons)