Racing 92 brush aside error-ridden Munster to join Leinster in the Champions Cup final
Racing 92 27 Munster 22
There will be no All-Irish final in Bilbao after Munster failed to perform against a Racing 92 side who blew them away in Bordeaux.
After Leinster’s statement performance in Dublin, the Parisians responded in kind with a devastating first-half display that crushed the Irish side who succumbed to their sixth semi-final loss in the 10 seasons since their last title win a decade ago.
Although the temperatures at Stade Chaban-Delmas did not hit expected heights, the Reds looked a fading force from early on and by the 24th minute Teddy Thomas was show-boating as he handed his third try to Maxime Machenaud to touch down.
Even with the vast majority of possession and territory from that point on, the Racing defence held firm and tries from Rhys Marshall, Simon Zebo and Andrew Conway couldn't halt their march.
Racing are traditionally the great entertainers of French rugby and they shredded Munster’s defence, but they also brought a physical edge to their defence and breakdown work that Peter O’Mahony’s side couldn’t live with.
Ian Keatley had a shocker, but he wasn’t alone in a team that looked drained by their recent travels.
Johann van Graan’s big selection calls didn’t come off as Alex Wootton struggled, while Niall Scannel had an off day out of touch. Even Conor Murray, O’Mahony and CJ Stander could have their normal impacts.
When Zebo came on he made a huge difference to the men in red's attacking game, but it was far too late.
The three early tries meant that this was a long and difficult afternoon for the large contingent of Munster fans who turned Bordeaux red for the weekend and took away whatever home advantage Racing had.
They sang until the end and their team kept chasing an increasingly impossible comeback dream, but ultimately they gave themselves far, far too much to do in the first quarter.
They were behind before they had gotten their bearings. A harsh penalty against Sam Arnold for not rolling away allowed Racing the first trip to the Munster ’22 but, after Pat Lambie found a brilliant touch, Camille Chat overthrew Wenceslas .
But they didn’t have to wait too long for the breakthrough and it was an ominous set of phases for the Irish province who lost collision after collision before Virimi Vakatawa found Teddy Thomas in space and he rounded Alex Wootton to score.
Maxime Machenaud delivered the touchline conversion and Munster missed a chance to apply some pressure of their own when Keatley missed touch after Stander won a penalty superbly at the ruck.
Like Racing, they got put it behind them quickly and almost exploited a Lambie cross-kick that Wootton fielded before feeding Conway who found Arnold only for the centre to head in-field when the space was on the wing.
Eventually, Thomas knocked on while attempting to intercept a Keatley pass and Munster’s pack earned a scrum penalty. Rather than kick at goal, O’Mahony instructed his out-half to find touch and he made no mistake this time.
Munster tried to engineer something with a clever lineout play, but Racing scrambled to thwart them and before long Keatley snatched at a drop-goal attempt before Rory Scannell was wide with a longer-range effort.
Keatley got another chance when Leone Nakarawa strayed offside and this time he made no mistake to reduce the gap.
But it wasn’t long before the Reds were gathering beneath the sticks again as Vakatwa and Thomas combined again, with Thomas stepping inside Conor Murray and brushing off Jean Kleyn to race in for an score that won’t be make for pretty watching in the Munster video analysis session.
The Top 14 side were so comfortable that Thomas eschewed a hat-trick on 23 minutes after once again shredding the Munster defence, instead popping the ball to Machenaud to score and when the scrum-half converted Racing led 21-3.
That all came from a monstrous Cedate Gomes Sa hit on Dave Kilcoyne that summed up the gulf between the sides.
Machenaud added three points after Stander hauled down a Racing maul that had marched 15m before being halted illegally and even without the ball the men in blue and white were comfortable as Munster struggled to make any ground.
Their scrum earned them a way back into the game as Kilcoyne forced a penalty that Rory Scannell delivered to touch but Yannick Nyanga picked off his brother’s throw to the tail.
Still, they came and earned a penalty on the 5m line as Racing again strayed offside. O’Mahony called for a scrum.
This time, Racing held firm and survived a long series of phases before Marc Andreu played Murray and conceded a penalty.
The scrum-half went to touch, but again Nyanga got up to pick Scannell’s throw off.
Racing’s discipline was keeping them in the hunt, though, and Murray quickly tapped a penalty to race into the ’22 before Kilcoyne sat Vakatawa down but the final surge from Arnold was held up over the line by a combination of defenders.
That gave Munster a 5m scrum with 30 seconds remaining and you sensed they had to score to have a chance after the break, but instead the scrum came down and when Rory Scannell trucked it up the support was slow and Vakatawa forced the penalty that brought the half to a close.
Racing extended their lead through Machenaud within two minutes of the restart as Murray lost his head, first picking up Andreu and throwing him to the ground, before putting a hand into Vakatawa’s face.
The France international made a meal of it and referee JP Doyle decided that a penalty would suffice, so his opposite number knocked over another three points.
Van Graan went to his bench, replacing his entire front-row and introducing Zebo who instantly breathed life into his side’s attack.
Still, the Racing defence held firm as Zebo and Stander went close and Rhys Marshall thought he was home until Doyle called him back because he himself had blocked a Racing defender.
Eventually, the blue and white wall held firm as Machenaud forced another ruck penalty before Vakatawa repeated the trick after Conway had made gains up the left wing.
Another dominant maul handed Machenaud the opportunity to make it 30-3, but his kick hit the cross-bar as Dan Carter came off the bench to make life even more difficult for the Irish side.
His main contribution was to pull off two try saving tackles to deny Rory Scannell and Arnold in quick succession as Munster continued to pound the line to no avail.
Doyle lost patience with the French side and sent Andreu to the sin-bin and finally the dam burst and Zebo forced his way through Chavancy’s tackle to score.
Hanrahan missed the conversion so the gap stayed at 19 points with 16 minutes on the clock.
Still, Munster kept going and Murray and Gerbrandt Grobler engineered a breakout for Andrew Conway who raced up the right, but Zebo’s wide pass to Robin Copeland on the left strayed forward.
Racing were fading and a silly Leone Nakarawa offload into touch on his own 5m line handed Munster a lineout and they drove over with Marshall touching down.
They kept playing until the death and Conway scored a third to make it a one-score game, but by that stage the clock had gone past 80 and Racing had booked their place in Bilbao where Leinster await on May 12.
RACING 92 – L Dupichot (D Carter 56); T Thomas, V Vakatawa (J Rokocoko 59), H Chavancy, M Andreu; P Lambie, M Machenaud (capt)(T Iribaren 73); E Ben Arous (V Kakovin 51-79), C Chat (D Szarzewski 51),C Gomes Sa (V Afatia 51-79); D Ryan, L Nakarawa; W Lauret, B Le Roux (B Chouzenoux 56),Y Nyanga (A Claasen 59).
MUNSTER – A Conway; K Earls, S Arnold, R Scannell, A Wootton (S Zebo 43); I Keatley(JJ Hanrahan 53), C Murray; D Kilcoyne (J Cronin 43), N Scannell (R Marshall 43), S Archer (J Ryan 43-60); J Kleyn (G Grobler 60), B Holland; P O’Mahony (capt), J O’Donoghue (R Copeland 53), CJ Stander.
Ref – JP Doyle (England)