Munster dig deep to get the better of Racing 92 in absorbing war of attrition
Munster 14 Racing 92 7
NEW coach Johann van Graan will have left Thomond Park with a good idea of what the place is all about after this windswept win over Racing 92.
By the time European rugby resumes in December, the South African will be pulling the strings but Rassie Erasmus leaves him in a strong position after delivering a closely fought win over the Parisians that leaves them level with Leicester Tigers on top of the pool.
Van Graan’s first taste of the Champions Cup will be the back-to-backs against the English side.
This was a nervy occasion played in terrible conditions and neither team scored for more than an hour.
Conor Murray broke the deadlock and his side never looked like losing after that. Minutes earlier, the Reds were camped on their own line and under serious pressure but held out. It was that kind of night.
In a pool that looks like going right to the wire, Leone Nakarawa’s try and Teddy Iribaren’s conversion could prove crucial but having drawn in Castres last week Munster will be happy to be up and running.
Storm Brian delivered swirling winds that made life difficult for both teams and the home lineout struggled for long stages. Racing’s limited game-plan played into Munster’s hands, but they defended well throughout, with Dave Kilcoyne leading the charge by meeting the big ball-carriers with force and absorbing long phases of pressure.
When they got their chances, they took them and they survived a late surge that could have earned a draw for the visiting side to the relief of the 22,054 Limerick crowd.
Munster remembered Anthony Foley before kick-off, while Ronan O’Gara returned in the away coaches box.
Peter O'Mahony turned down an early opportunity to kick three points and asked Ian Keatley to find touch.
Rhys Marshall surged close to the line at the first attempt, drawing a penalty from Maxime Machenaud and O’Mahony again went to the corner but the Kiwi hooker over-threw his man allowing Racing off the hook.
The lineout was an intriguing battle-ground and Munster’s pressure was causing the visiting team problems which meant they weren’t getting the benefit of the strong wind at their backs.
Keatley again kicked to the corner when Ben Tameifeuna but two successive Marshall throws were picked off by Leone Nakarawa but the Parisians were still struggling to get out of their own half and Henry Chavancy’s knock-on under pressure from Rory Scannell handed the hosts a gilt-edged scrum opportunity deep in the ’22.
Pat Lambie dealt with Keith Earls’ initial attempt off the back of clean ball, but when they tapped a subsequent penalty Le Roux got himself over the ball and forced a penalty.
A Scannell knock-on handed the French side a rare opportunity and deft hands from Nakarawa almost released Dan Carter down the right. The visitors then settled into a pattern of pick and jams that never looked like penetrating and after absorbing 19 phases le Roux spilled in contact.
The pressure continued, however, and Keatley needed a brave tackle to chop Joe Rokocoko who was getting moving out right and they passed up another chance through their own inaccuracy beneath the Munster posts as Camille Chat knocked on.
With the conditions playing havoc, there were mistakes everywhere and Conor Murray needed bailing out by CJ Stander when he couldn’t control the ball at the base of a scrum with Yannick Nyanga ready to pounce.
An ugly first-half finished scoreless and with the wind at their backs Munster started the second with intent and Lambie needed to be sharp to force Darren Sweetnam into touch as he latched on to a Keatley chip.
They escaped minutes later as Simon Zebo latched on to a deft Murray chip and almost released Keith Earls with an outrageous behind the back pass but the winger couldn’t hold it.
JP Doyle was playing advantage and Keatley kicked his side to the edge of the Racing ’22 but once again they couldn’t get any reward and the out-half kicked the ball dead when things slowed down.
Racing rolled on their big front-rows all at once and replaced Carter with Remi Tales and when Munster were penalised for hands in the ruck the French side had their chance.
Tales kicked to the corner and the maul looked like heading for the line until Tommy O’Donnell and Murray came in from the side and Doyle whistled for another penalty.
Again, they kicked to the corner but this time Munster dealt with the initial maul and a second attempt to drive was illegal allowing the Reds off the hook.
Things were increasingly tense as the hour-mark approached with the scoreboard reading 0-0 and the first score growing in significance.
It finally came and, fittingly, it arose from an error. A Zebo knock-on handed Racing a scrum, but the home side applied pressure and when Machenaud dallied Murray charged his kick down, racing on to the ball and brilliantly picking up to score.
Keatley nailed a difficult conversion and given what had passed before 7-0 seemed an insurmountable lead.
Suddenly the home scrum was rampant and Thomond erupted as the pack earned a penalty. Keatley kicked into Racing territory and then cleaned up when Kevin O’Byrne’s throw flew over everyone but he undid his good work by missing from right in front when Dimitri Szarzewski was harshly penalised for not rolling away.
He made up for it. An excellent Keatley kick penned the French side into their own ’22 and when the clearing kick only went to the edge of the ’22 the home side went for the jugular, working through 10 phases until Keatley moved the ball wide right and Scannell found Andrew Conway in space and he wasn’t going to be stopped.
Having missed the easy one, Keatley nailed the touchline effort but Racing pulled a try back through Nakarawa and Teddy Iribaren’s conversion earned them a bonus point.
It might have been more as they finished strongly, kicking to the corner for one last push that came a cropper when Baptiste Chouzenoux failed to gather Szarzewski’s throw.
Thomond breathed a sigh of relief. Job done by Erasmus, over to van Graan to steer the ship from here.
MUNSTER - S Zebo; D Sweetnam (A Conway 57), C Farrell, R Scannell, K Earls; I Keatley, C Murray; D Kilcoyne (L O’Connor 77), R Marshall (K O’Byrne 63), S Archer (J Ryan 52), J Kleyn (M Flanagan 55), B Holland, P O'Mahony (capt), T O'Donnell (J O’Donoghue 71), CJ Stander.
RACING 92 - P Lambie; J Rokocoko, H Chavancy, A Tuitavake, L Dupichot (A Vuvivuli 67); D Carter (R Tales 52), M Machenaud (capt) (T Iribaren 72); E Ben Arous (V Afatia 52), C Chat (D Szarewski 52), B Tameifuna (C Johnston 52); B Le Roux (E Maka 72), L Nakarawa; W Lauret, Y Nyanga (B Chouzenoux 71), A Claasen.
Ref - JP Doyle (England)