Late anguish for Munster as Racing snatch win but Euro destiny still in their own hands
Racing 92 34 Munster 30
Defeat for Munster, but their European destiny remains in their own hands.
Racing celebrated a win to mark their first Champions Cup game at the U-Arena, but given the way Pool 4 stands with one game remaining they will look back on the final 10 minutes and wonder.
A point up thanks to Maxime Machenaud's penalty, they were handed a penalty deep in the Munster '22 with four minutes remaining. A fourth try would have handed them control of the pool, but they opted to kick for the posts to secure the win.
So, Munster can secure a quarter-final with a bonus point win over Castres next week at Thomond Park regardless of what Racing do at Welford Road.
Yet they won't be happy to have spurned a winning position and may be away in the last eight as a result of losing their grip of a pulsating game.
Ultimately, it was their own man who proved their undoing. After Conor Murray had put Munster in front, Donnacha Ryan rose highest to claim the kick-off, Jack O'Donoghue played the ball on the deck and Machenaud gave his side a lead they would never relinquish.
It was a fittingly dramatic end to a contest that had ebbed and flowed. Racing established an 18-7 lead, but then Munster wrestled control back and the lead kept changing hands as the second-half progressed until the France scrum-half finally settled it.
Read more here:
International Rugby Newsletter
- Munster suffer agonising defeat in France: As it happened
- Paul Kimmage: Three Billboards Outside Thomond Park, Limerick
Racing started like a train and for the first 10 minutes they threatened to blow Munster away.
The Reds found themselves 10-0 down during a hectic opening salvo in which they were guilty of giving penalties away as they tried to keep pace with their hosts.
Yannick Nyanga scored the opening try less than two minutes into the game, powering through CJ Stander from close range after Teddy Thomas made big gains up the right and Edwin Maka had floored Peter O'Mahony.
Maxime Machenaud converted and added a penalty for a Stander high-hit on Nyanga.
Slowly, the visiting side got their bearings and a second wind, finding that the perfect conditions beneath the U-Arena roof favoured their top-of-the-ground players more than some of Racing's heavy hitters.
They struck back through Jean Kleyn who showed brilliant strength to fight through Nyanga's tackle to score after a sold scrum and carries from Rory Scannell and Chris Farrell at the heart of the Racing defence.
Ian Keatley converted and, suddenly, it was Munster who were probing and finding joy in the air.
Leone Nakarawa resorted to blocking Simon Zebo, but Keatley struck the post with his penalty attempt before the Frenchmen needed some brilliant scrambling defence to deny Johann van Graan's men who almost broke free down the right when Keith Earls and Zebo combined to free Andrew Conway.
He was the first of a number of Munster attackers who were stopped by last ditch tackles and when the ball came his way again the Dubliner couldn't find Earls out wide with the line begging and Zebo was penalised for holding on.
For all of their dominance, the two-time champions couldn't make it pay on the score-board and were left to rue another penalty – this time a Conor Murray long-ranger – striking the upright.
Indeed it was Racing who were handed a chance to extend their lead on the stroke of half-time as Peter O'Mahony was penalised for killing the ball and then complained to referee Matthew Carley who moved the kick into Machenaud's range.
The scrum-half punished the Munster captain's ill-discipline and his side led 13-7 at the interval.
And the second-half began just as the first did, with Munster losing collisions and Racing celebrating a try within three minutes of the restart.
Marc Andreu finished well in the corner, with O'Mahony and Rory Scannell guilty of soaking tackles in the build up as the Racing power game did the trick.
Machenaud missed the touch-line conversion and this time Munster hit back instantly as Ben Tameifuna was guilty of a deliberate knock-on and Murray tapped quickly and worked the ball wide to Chris Farrell wide right and he made big gains.
With Racing on the back-foot, Munster swung left, Earls spotted the giant Edwin Maka in open space and skipped right past him and over from 30m with a cracking finish.
Keatley converted to make it a four-point game and when O'Mahony brilliantly forced a penalty for his side with a strong poach at the breakdown the out-half put his side in position once again.
They sent Scannell up the middle, Stander had a go but it was Keatley's delayed pass that held Nyanga's attention long enough for Farrell to score and when the out-half added the extras the Irish side led for the first time.
The hosts hit back instantly as replacement prop Vasil Kakovin popped Stephen Archer and Machenaud nailed a difficult penalty to level matters.
Keatley restored the lead after Virimi Vakatawa was penalised at the ruck and they might have put the game to bed minutes later as Earls brilliantly picked Zebo's pass off his laces, drew two defenders and looked to find Murray who knocked the pass on with the line begging.
Racing looked to hit back with Thomas making a brilliant break up the right and Louis Dupichot carrying into Munster territory but the move was undone when Nakarawa ran into Wenceslas Lauret in midfield and Carley gave a penalty for obstruction.
Munster put themselves into Racing territory and came away with three points as Keatley punished Dimitri Szarzewski's ill-discipline, but the hooker made up for as Munster fell asleep at a lineout in their own half.
Szarzewski found Nyanga who ghosted through the line and returned the pass to the replacement who went over and Machenaud edged his team back in front with the conversion.
A point down, Keatley tried a long-range drop goal that didn't come off and Murray missed a 47m penalty attempt.
He made no mistake with six minutes remaining, however, capitalising on a hard-won scrum penalty by nailing kick from inside his own half.
Up stepped Ryan, who rose highest to claim the kick-off and when O'Donoghue played the ball on the deck Machenaud nailed another tough penalty.
He extended the lead from inside the '22 when Keatley's kick skewed off his boot and found Vakatawa and Kleyn was guilty of killing the ball, but given the importance of the bonus point the decision to go for the posts may come back to haunt the Parisians.
Racing 92 - L Dupichot (J Rokocoko n73); T Thomas, V Vakatawa, H Chavancy, M Andreu; R Tales, M Machenaud; E Ben Arous (V Kakovin 53), C Chat (D Szarzewski 53), B Tameifuna (C Gomes Sa 48); D Ryan, E Maka (B Palu 48); Y Nyanga, W Lauret (B Chouzenoux 76), L Nakarawa.
Munster - S Zebo (A Wootton 73); A Conway, C Farrell, R Scannell, K Earls; I Keatley (JJ Hanrahan 79), C Murray; D Kilcoyne (J Cronin 56), R Marshall (K O'Byrne 75), S Archer (J Ryan 56); J Kleyn, B Holland; P O'Mahony (J O'Donoghue 55), C Cloete, CJ Stander.
Ref - M Carley (England)