Sunday 15 December 2019

Home quarter-final a Racing certainty as Munster revival continues apace

Ronan O'Gara will get a deserved hero’s acclaim when he walks on to the Thomond Park turf this evening. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Ronan O'Gara will get a deserved hero’s acclaim when he walks on to the Thomond Park turf this evening. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Ronan O'Gara will get a deserved hero's acclaim when he walks on to the Thomond Park turf this evening.

His heart will at once burn with pride but singe in embarrassment as his Racing rabble, finalists last season and French champions but European chumps this term, arrive with the bookmakers expecting, at the very least, a 23-point pasting.

The satchel bearers may be proffering gifts even with those figures.

Munster are through to the last eight of the tournament for a record 16th time and a win today will guarantee them a home quarter-final; O'Gara was in the vanguard for so many of those halcyon days but today he will be merely a bystander as his former favourites maintain their storied revival.

Results elsewhere will dictate Munster's ranking amongst the top four quarter-finalists.

But, presuming they can get the bonus-point win here against a side for whom even their owner states that next week's league game is more of a priority, they can start plotting, perhaps, a route to a final for the first time since their second European win in 2008.

Their side is slightly changed for their third successive European venture in as many weeks, the first of those a boost for Tommy O'Donnell, who shakes off another ankle injury to evict Jack O'Donoghue from his temporary stint on the openside in Glasgow last weekend. James Cronin is preferred ahead of Dave Kilcoyne at loosehead in the second pack change, while Ronan O'Mahony starts on the wing as Keith Earls is ruled out after taking a knock to his ribs in training during the week.

You get the sense whoever takes the hallowed field in red, the good times are back.

"It's been a long time coming and it's a reflection of where we are as a group," says scrum-half Conor Murray, showing no ill-effects after his bruising experience in Scotstoun last weekend.

"We're enjoying our rugby and we feel like a really tight unit at the moment. We're playing some good rugby and tough rugby at times, which is good to know leading into the knockout stages.

"So we're really, really happy. I think a home quarter-final now, we're getting greedy, but we need to secure that and make it something to look forward to down the line.

"So, another huge day on Thomond on Saturday, it's sold out, I think there's extra seating again and there's just a great buzz around the place and everyone's excited to be in this team and to be playing in this team at the moment."

Racing, as they should, include some heavy-hitters; their French players cannot play next week due to the imminent Six Nations but the absence of Dan Carter, who has never played here, is notable.

And their build-up has been afflicted by more potentially awkward drug-testing issues.

French internationals Brice Dulin and Yannick Nyanga, both selected today, will face an anti-doping probe after traces of the banned substance higenamine were discovered in a drugs test, a source at the country's anti-doping body (AFLD) said.

Higenamine is used to treat asthma and is also a fat burner which can be found in food supplements.

The two men could be cleared to play by the French rugby federation (FFR) when they appear before a commission or banned for two years.

Munster, in contrast, are blissfully worry-free. Which they will again prove on the field today.

Verdict: Munster

Munster - S Zebo; A Conway, J Taute, R Scannell, R O'Mahony; T Bleyendaal, C Murray; J Cronin, N Scannell, J Ryan, J Kleyn, D Ryan, P O'Mahony (c), T O'Donnell, R Copeland. Reps: R Marshall, D Kilcoyne, T Du Toit, B Holland, J O'Donoghue, D Williams, I Keatley, F Saili .

Racing 92 - B Dulin; T Thomas, H Chavancy, E Dussartre, M Andreu; B Dambielle, M Machenaud (c); E Ben Arous, C Chat, B Tameifuna, M Carizza, L Nakarawa, Y Nyanga, M Voisin, S Fa'aso'oy. Reps: V Lacombe, J Brugnaut, C Gomes Sa, A Williams, C Masoe, J Hart, F Pourteau, A Vulivuli.

Ref - M Mitrea (FIR)

Munster v Racing 92,

Live, Sky Sports 2, 5.30

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