Sunday 17 December 2017

Munster's rout of Racing was a tribute to Axel, says Erasmus

Simon Zebo, right, and Conor Murray of Munster
Simon Zebo, right, and Conor Murray of Munster
Simon Zebo was among Munster’s try scorers. Photo: Sportsfile
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

En route to Stade Yves-du-Manoir yesterday we came across a couple making the journey for the second time this season. Their first effort came up short when the shape of that weekend in October was warped by the sudden death of Anthony Foley. "We had to come back," the wife said. "I suppose it's unfinished business."

Certainly the away side looked very business-like in the way they have taken control of Pool One in the Champions Cup. They go to Scotstoun next weekend knowing that a win would put them in the fast lane to a home draw in the quarter-final given that Racing have to come to Limerick in the last round.

"We're relieved," Rassie Erasmus said afterwards. "Not just for the scoreboard and for the win, I'm relieved this game is over. It was a tough week but it's also been dragging on since Anthony passed away. I'm glad it's over. It was a nervous week and I wasn't quite sure what was coming. I didn't know how we would handle it. And to get the fourth try was special - relieved this specific game was over."

In the warm-up the Racing players wore red T-shirts over their own colours, with 'A Foley' printed across the back. And they were joined in that by their owner Jacky Lorenzetti, who donned red and watched from the sideline as his team prepared. What happened next, however, must have shaken him.

"We got schooled," Ronan O'Gara said of Racing's performance. "We didn't stop the driving maul and they have very good detail in their forward game which we couldn't handle. We made changes . . . but whatever team we had out there would have been struggling to meet Munster.

"They were better live than I thought they would be. I've watched a lot of the tapes, obviously, and they were ruthlessly efficient. They're incredibly fit, I think, and they play a really direct, brutal, efficient, winning brand of rugby. That was serious cup rugby out there. They were better than us in every aspect.

"They're serious rugby players in their prime: Peter O'Mahony, Tommy (O'Donnell), John Ryan, Niall (Scannell), Conor Murray, (Tyler) Bleyendaal, Rory (Scannell), (Keith) Earlsy, (Simon) Zeebs, (Andrew) Conway. It was interesting to see what good shape they're in."

Despite the fact that Munster have coped incredibly well with the loss of Foley, Erasmus was keen to point out that things can't be left behind. "I would never say we can go on because we'll think of Anthony always, a lot. We've made that decision and we will keep on doing that but it almost feels level - we've played the same number of matches as the other teams in the pool. We'll never move on because we will always miss him but it feels like we're back to normal, almost, if I can put it that way and with all the respect in the world.

"I think (the way Munster are playing) is a tribute to Axel. Of course I think it was really clinical and intense, the first 50 minutes. We weren't maybe as sharp for the final 30 but we still had the intensity, which was satisfying. A lot can be put down to Axel."

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