Tuesday 23 July 2019

Losing bonus point the bare minimum for Munster beneath the U Arena roof

No Carter, but Racing have picked a team designed to run at the Reds in their stunning new stadium

Munster coach Johann van Graan. Photo: Sportsfile
Munster coach Johann van Graan. Photo: Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Some teams like to keep the head down ahead of big games such as these, but Munster have been generating headline news on a daily basis this week.

Between Rassie Erasmus's raids on their coaching staff, the furore surrounding Gerbrandt Grobler, the appearance of two teenage South Africans in the province's academy, a potential fixture against the Boks, Jean Kleyn declaring his intention to play for Ireland and two interviews given by Simon Zebo kept the columns filled to the brim.

And that's before we even got near the biggest match of Munster's season.

Johann van Graan praised his players' ability to focus during tumultuous times this week and it's just as well they're able to deal with disruption.

They will need to be focused on the task at hand at the U Arena, the Parisians' space-age new stadium.

In October, these teams played out a long, drawn-out stalemate in which neither blinked for an hour. Every contest for possession was fearsome and it was Munster who emerged on top.

"We broke. We cracked first. That is what happened," Ronan O'Gara said after that match, and it was hard to argue.

Three months on and the Munster legend has left the building for New Zealand.

It's not the only change; Erasmus has handed the reins to Van Graan, Donnacha Ryan is fit again and the conditions will be very different from that wind-swept October night.

Playing on a 4G pitch beneath a roof creates a very different challenge and how Munster adapt to the environment will be key. Switching from winter pitches to a hard track will require a mindset change.

All week, Racing had been expected to field Dan Carter but his name was absent when their team was announced yesterday. Given he hasn't played since the meeting between the sides three months ago, it's perhaps a blessing in disguise for the home team.

Remi Tales is not the player Carter is, but he has been steering the ship for Laurent Labit and Laurent Travers during a purple patch of form in which they've won seven of their last eight games.

Clermont were understrength when they travelled to the capital last week, but Racing were merciless in taking advantage. Munster will provide a sterner test, but their own form is patchy.

Van Graan has been impressed with what he's seen from the 2016 French champions.

"They've got some momentum," he said. "They've used their squad pretty intelligently, even if it was due to injuries. Their strengths are still their strengths.

"Their lineout, they've got a long kicking game, they frustrate you and if you give them a bad kick, they punish you. They're very good around kick-off time, picking through rucks and we will have to be clever around that.

"Probably the most difficult thing is how do you stop their offloads. They've got a lot of height. Do you compress? Because if you compress and they get it away, they've got speed on the outside. Do you keep your width? Then they will punish you on the inside.

"It's great to be involved in games like this, everybody involved sees it as a great challenge going in there with great excitement. To get a result against Racing away from home will be a big result for us."

Victory would put Munster into the last eight with a home clash against Castres to secure a home quarter-final. A loss with a bonus point would not be the end of the world, but it may cost them the lucrative Thomond Park knockout game. A loss without a bonus puts the pool in Racing's hands.

"Our mindset is the same as every single game," Van Graan said. "We start at zero, prepare well, respect the opposition, look at our strengths and how we can impose them.

"We're definitely going to have to absorb pressure, they are quality. And once we get into their half we've got to apply pressure.

"We've got to adapt. To get a result we'll need 80 minutes in this game. They're also playing for their life so they'll fight for the 80 or 83 minutes. Obviously, we want to qualify for a home quarter-final with a game left but we're not going to put ourselves under pressure about the winning of the game. We've just got to back our process."

That process has them top of the group, but this looks daunting and a losing bonus might not be a bad return.

Verdict: Racing 92

Racing 92 - L Dupichot; T Thomas, V Vakatawa, H Chavancy, M Andreu; R Tales, M Machenaud; E Ben Arous, C Chat, B Tameifuna; D Ryan, E Maka; Y Nyanga, W Lauret, L Nakarawa. Reps: D Szarzewski, V Kakovin, C Gomes, Sa, B Chouzenoux, B Palu, X Chauveau, B Dambielle, J Rokocoko.

Munster - S Zebo; A Conway, C Farrell, R Scannell, K Earls; I Keatley, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, R Marshall, S Archer; J Kleyn, B Holland; P O'Mahony, C Cloete, CJ Stander. Reps: K O'Byrne, J Cronin, J Ryan, D O'Shea, J O'Donoghue, J Hart, JJ Hanrahan, A Wootton.

Ref - M Carley (England)

  • Racing 92 v Munster, live, Sky Sports Action, tomorrow 3.15

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