Wednesday 17 October 2018

'Only an 80-minute performance will do against Leinster'

Donnacha Ryan. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Donnacha Ryan. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

Racing 92 coach Laurent Labit believes his side will need to sustain their performance for the duration if they are to overcome Leinster in the final on May 12.

The Parisians booked their place in Bilbao by blowing Munster away with a superb opening 25 minutes, before they defended their line stoutly for just long enough to see out the win.

After the three-time champions gave a statement performance on Saturday to hammer Scarlets, Racing responded in kind with a blistering start, but Labit will be reminding his players that they'll need an 80-minute display to prosper in the Basque country.

The Irish province have been installed as 2/5 favourites to earn a fourth crown and the coach, whose team experienced the final when they came up short against Saracens in 2016, is expecting a tough day at the office.

"It's going to be a great challenge," he said. "We saw it two years ago against Saracens, you don't get the European title by chance. We have to do something exceptional to win it.

"Leinster will be a formidable opponent, they have three-quarters of the Irish team.

"We know Johnny Sexton well, very well. Leinster are very powerful and physical but they always have different ways to win games. They love to create with the way they play but we showed today that we also have force and we can set up our game."

Leinster have one game between now and the San Mames showdown and, having already secured top spot in their Guinness PRO14 conference, they can rest whoever they like against Connacht next Saturday.

Racing, meanwhile, face a return trip to Bordeaux and a home game against Agen. Currently third in the Top 14, they can't take their foot off the pedal.

Of course, the mega-rich Parisians do possess a deep squad and can rotate, but Leinster can manage their pool in comfort to ensure they arrive in Bilbao at optimal level.

So, Racing want to repeat their fast start and keep it going for longer.

"Of course we're proud,"Labit said. "When you're a coach you look at the match and after 40 minutes it was like a piece of cake.

"We had 40 minutes of very high-level rugby where we played as we had decided. We had a strong start and blocked Munster's mindset, the forwards and the collision game.

"What we needed was to keep the ball and we scored three tries, all three in situations we had planned and identified.

"We want to win a title and we saw Leinster yesterday, so we will have to do the same for 80 minutes against Leinster, 40 won't be enough.

"It's a huge challenge and now for us as coaches, we've got two competitions to deal with. We have the Top 14 and now the final in the Champions Cup in three weeks. We will have to manage the squad because they're bruising matches.

"Every player is important, we used 23 players today. They will have an opportunity in the next games. We have to prepare for the final league game against Agen. It's difficult but it is an exciting challenge too.

"We did great in the first half in terms of strategy and the attacking game.

Coherent

"We will have to do more if we want to be European champions. We saw the last 20 minutes were rough and it will be difficult because it will be 80 minutes at that level.

"We will have to be more coherent as a team. The maturity has grown and we know what a final is all about. We lost to Saracens but we know now."

One man in the ranks who'll know Leinster well is Donnacha Ryan, who put in another superb shift at the heart of the Racing effort on an emotional day.

The Tipperary native was an unused sub when his home province won the European title in 2008, now he gets another crack against a familiar foe.

"It's bittersweet really - I genuinely feel for the lads," he said. "They've been knocking on the door last year, this year and obviously two years ago was very tough," said Ryan.

"They're building really well and they've a great unit there playing together. Obviously I'm thrilled to bits to be back in a final but I do feel for the lads.

"We really put the foot to the floor and trained really hard for the last four days in a row.

"We put a lot of effort into the first half and we said we'd try and hang on. I'm disappointed by the penalties we gave away, it is something we have to work on.

"With Munster's fitness they are able to up the tempo and small margins in the end did it for us today.

"I'm bitterly disappointed for the lads. I know how much it means to them. It's going to be a tough task in a few weeks time."

His and Racing's focus will now turn to maintaining their electric start throughout in three weeks' time.

Irish Independent

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