Saturday 18 January 2020

Ruaidhri O'Connor: 'The hard truth is that Munster's deficiencies were ruthlessly exposed by a better team'

Munster are facing Champions Cup elimination after a heavy defeat to Racing 92 in Paris. (Photo by ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP via Getty Images)
Munster are facing Champions Cup elimination after a heavy defeat to Racing 92 in Paris. (Photo by ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP via Getty Images)
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Heartbreak for Munster in the City of Love. There can be no criticising their heart after this defeat in Paris, but their deficiencies were exposed ruthlessly by a Racing 92 team who had too much quality.

A game that was still in the balance with 10 minutes to go ended up being almost double scores as the big-spending French side pulled clear to claim Pool 4 and book a place in the quarter-finals. Munster’s campaign is effectively at an end, barring a strange set of results next weekend.

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They will have regrets about their missed chances and moments of ill-discipline, but Johann van Graan could not ask much more from his players in terms of their commitment.

Unfortunately for the two-time winners, the top four or five teams are operating at a different level and their effort can only take them so far.

That Racing needed two moments of supreme quality to unlock the game underlined the quality of Munster’s performance, but there was nobody in red capable of producing what Virimi Vakatawa, Teddy Thomas and Teddy Iribaren were capable of to win the match.

After a week of listening to stinging criticism in the wake of their loss to Ulster, it was no surprise that Munster came out of the traps with real intent and they raced into a 9-0 lead through the boot of JJ Hanrahan.

With Dave Kilcoyne leading the charge, Jack O’Donoghue excellent and Conor Murray controlling matters well, they put Racing on the back foot and won the early collisions.

The home side were ill-disciplined and their scrum was struggling, but just when they needed a way into the game they were handed one by Munster’s Jean Kleyn, who gave away a needless penalty just after the restart by blocking Ibiraren on 19 minutes.

The scrum-half took full advantage to make it 9-3 and when the game re-commenced the momentum had firmly shifted in the home team’s direction.

Suddenly, Vakatawa was showing up everywhere and causing Chris Farrell a whole world of problems.

Munster needed to be calm, but they instead rushed a lineout and Dominic Bird picked them off. Vakatawa cut through, but Niall Scannell was able to pounce on his loose offload.

Peter O’Mahony brilliantly denied Russell off the back of a superb Vakatawa pass and Munster escaped when the Scot didn’t release before going again.

Still, the pressure kept coming with Vakatawa a constant threat. Juan Imhoff kept a Russell chip in play and forced Mike Haley to carry over his own line and, from the scrum, the French side struck.

After a couple of hard carries, Vakatawa spilled the ball and Iribaren picked it up, before flinging the most sensational pass wide to Teddy Thomas who collected and scored.

Despite a series of reviews, Wayne Barnes and TMO Rowan Kitt couldn’t spot a knock-on and the try stood.

Iribaren missed the conversion, but put Racing in front minutes later from 48m when O’Mahony was pinned on the wrong side of a ruck.

Hanrahan missed a penalty from a similar distance after Vakatawa’s deliberate knock-on ruined a promising Munster move.

Racing went for the jugular before the break on the back of a poor Haley kick. He made up for it by scragging Imhoff when the Puma was put through, but the danger remained as the French side swung left with a three-on-one.

All Henry Chavancy had to do was find his man, but Andrew Conway had other ideas; picking off the centre and racing the length of the pitch to score a crucial try.

Hanrahan converted and Munster took an unlikely 16-11 lead in at half-time.

Again, they started the second-half well but this time their discipline cost them. O’Mahony picked off a Camille Chat throw and Bird coughed up a penalty, but a great attacking position came and went when Stephen Archer performed a neck-roll on Eddy Ben Arous.

The prop then rushed up offside at the other end, handing Iribaren a chance to narrow the margin to two points.

Munster came back hard and, when Russell played Murray at a ruck, Hanrahan nailed the penalty.

The pressure came back on instantly as Munster tried to play out from their own line and Chavancy picked Haley off. Hanrahan was penalised for knocking on as he stripped him of possession and Murray went high on Anthonie Claassen allowing Iribaren to make it 19-17.

He then put his side in front once more after a series of Munster errors, finishing with CJ Stander slapping down a Russell pass.

Every time Racing increased the tempo, Munster looked vulnerable but they kept in it. Haley claimed an important high ball and Conway forced Iribaren to carry into touch on his own 5m line with a clever chip and chase.

Munster had to make the chance count and they built well, unleashing Stander around the corner and carrying well before Vakatawa and Wenceslas Lauret held Farrell up over the line.

That gave them another chance from the scrum, but they had to settle for three points when Billy Holland knocked on under pressure from Imhoff after a strong Kleyn carry.

The second-row had numbers outside him and argued the case that Imhoff had knocked on, but Barnes ignored his claims and Racing escaped just two points down.

Another chance came and went when Munster built good phases in Racing’s half despite two loose Kleyn passes, but Camille Chat chose his moment and won a key turnover.

Instead of attacking, Munster found themselves defending their own line once again and they did it brilliantly through a long series of phases only to be undone once again by a piece of magic.

Russell’s cross-kick was just too high for Keith Earls and looked to be going dead, but Thomas somehow managed to get one hand on it and touch it down.

Maxime Machenaud, on for Iribaren, missed the touchline conversion but Munster now needed a try and they looked out on their feet as they chased it.

Instead, they found themselves defending again as Lauret won a turnover and Vakatawa put the game to bed as the visitors’ defence crumbled.

Imhoff claimed a bonus point at the death, giving the scoreline a look that simply didn’t reflect how close the game had been.

Munster are out and face a long week before they welcome Ospreys to Thomond Park for a dead rubber.

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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