Saturday 18 January 2020

Rúaidhrí O'Connor: 'No room for romance in Paris as Munster's shortcomings laid bare'

Racing 92 39 Munster 22

Chris Farrell struggles to get to grips with Racing 92’s Virimi Vakatawa during yesterday’s Champions Cup clash. Photo: Sportsfile
Chris Farrell struggles to get to grips with Racing 92’s Virimi Vakatawa during yesterday’s Champions Cup clash. Photo: Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

Racing 92'S futuristic stadium is located in Paris's business district and in this corner of the City of Love there is no room for romance.

The Parisians represent new money in the European landscape, Munster are what counts for the aristocracy but they're being slowly edged out of the equation.

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They threw themselves into this task as one would expect. A week of stinging criticism from former players and their own professional pride meant that was the minimum. They raced into a 9-0 lead, they were ahead with 10 minutes to go and yet the Parisians claimed a bonus point, almost double-scores win.

In the end, the simple analysis is that Racing had the better players. They have game-changers all over the park and, ultimately, that matters.

Munster took them into a dark place, but they saw the light. Teddy Iribaren produced the pass of the decade just two weeks in to set up Teddy Thomas for his first try, the winger then somehow grounded Finn Russell's perfectly weighted cross-kick to break Munster hearts on 71 minutes.

The Reds have no one like Virimi Vakatawa, whose name will ring out in Chris Farrell's house when he wakes up in a cold sweat.

Down and out in Paris: Peter O’Mahony stands dejected at the final whistle. Photo: Sportsfile
Down and out in Paris: Peter O’Mahony stands dejected at the final whistle. Photo: Sportsfile

Farrell is a very good player, one of Munster's best, but the Fijian-born, France international beat him all ends up here.

Racing created their scores with moments of brilliance in attack, Munster relied on their discipline and defence.

Stephen Larkham is teaching them new tricks and at times their attacking shape looks very good, but they are still struggling to create enough scores to win these games.

They got a terrible draw, but that's mainly because they weren't good enough to top their PRO14 conference last season. If they want to set things up for the arrival of RG Snyman and Damian de Allende next season, they need to at least give themselves a chance of avoiding the biggest hitters.

Still, they will have regrets about the moments along the way.

JJ Hanrahan's missed drop-goal in Limerick, CJ Stander's decision to go to the corner against Saracens. The lack of ruthlessness at home to the champions. Jean Kleyn's brainless penalty concession at 9-0 here. They all add up.

Van Graan had no comment to make on the strangeness that surrounded two key Television Match Official decisions, where it seemed the television director only offered a handful of the available angles.

Perhaps if it had finished a one-score game he might have been of a mind to complain, but he's not one to look for excuses.

Given the draw, the coaching overhaul they went through last summer and the impact of the World Cup, this campaign was always going to be a difficult one for Munster. Throw in their injury issues and it's proven to be a step too far.

The South African is under pressure now, but this is no time for rash decisions. Pound for pound, Munster have been punching above their weight for the last few seasons, and it was telling that Van Graan was so reluctant to go to his bench when the players on the pitch were visibly tiring.

They had given their all.

They started so well, winning collisions and racking up a 9-0 lead, but Kleyn's concession stalled their momentum and things might have got away from them before half-time but for Mike Haley's cover tackle on Juan Imhoff and Andrew Conway's intercept try just as Racing looked set to pull clear.

Iribaren's magic put them in front, the scrum-half pulled out the most sensational pass to put Thomas over after Vakatawa dropped an earlier pass. It might have gone forward, it was hard to tell, but the television angles were inconclusive and the score stood.

The scrum-half and JJ Hanrahan traded penalties as the second half went on to set up what might have been a grandstand finish.

Farrell was held up over the line and Billy Holland knocked on under pressure from Imhoff. The second-row suggested the Puma had knocked on, but Wayne Barnes didn't entertain his complaints.

Munster had to settle for three points when they needed to create some daylight.

Instead, it was Racing who crossed next as Thomas superbly grounded after Russell's chip sailed over Keith Earls' head.

Still, it was a three-point game but it was Racing's bench that made an impact as Munster's subs treaded water and their starters wilted beneath the lights.

Vakatawa added the third as Munster wilted, before Imhoff secured a bonus point at the death to put a gloss on the scoreboard.

They can take solace from their spirit, from the performances of Jack O'Donoghue, Dave Kilcoyne and a resurgent Conor Murray, but ultimately another year has passed them by and it seems like the gap between them and the elite teams is getting wider.

RACING 92 - B Dulin; T Thomas, V Vakatawa, H Chavancy (capt) (O Klemeczak 72), J Imhoff; F Russell, T Iribaren (M Machenaud 70); E Ben Arous (H Kolanger 55), C Chat (T Baubigny 70), B Tameifuna (B Gomes Sa 55); B Palu, D Bird; W Lauret, B le Roux (F Sanconnie 73), A Claassen.

MUNSTER - M Haley (S Daly 78); A Conway, C Farrell, R Scannell (D Goggin 78), K Earls; JJ Hanrahan, C Murray (C Casey 78); D Kilcoyne (J Loughman 65), N Scannell (K O'Byrne 78), S Archer (J Ryan 65); J Kleyn (A Botha 70), B Holland; P O'Mahony (capt), J O'Donoghue (C Cloete 73), CJ Stander.

Ref - W Barnes (England)

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