Saturday 21 September 2019

Stormy waters for Munster as Racing look for group control

Johann van Graan
Johann van Graan
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Storm Brian looms large over Thomond Park this evening as a Parisian side, resplendent in baby blue and led by an all-singing, all-dancing Fijian second-row and a legendary, but recently returned All Black out-half arrive looking the perfect canon fodder.

In days of yore, Munster would have licked their lips and eaten Racing 92 alive. Dan Carter's goal-kicks would be respectfully observed, but any mis-step would be greeted with gleeful howls of derision.

The pack would gobble them up, the backs would relentlessly hunt in packs and The Fields of Athenry would ring out.

All going well for the home side, the old script will be followed and Leone Nakarawa will join Sebastien Chabal in struggling to deal with the white heat. Carter will be made to look old.

Johann van Graan will watch from the stands, liking what he sees and Ronan O'Gara will wear an 'I told you so' look.

Form does not back this scenario up, however: the Reds are currently looking more like the 2014-16 vintage than the one who restored former glories last season.

Back then, Thomond lost its formidable sheen and Leicester and Clermont both left with the points. Racing look primed to do the same.

The return of Jean Kleyn to the tight five is a significant boost given how light they've looked since Donnacha Ryan left to join Racing. Ryan misses this evening's game, but is set to make his Top 14 debut next week and will have a part to play in Pool 4 yet.

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Munster's back-row is a match for anyone in Europe, but they have been forced into donkey-work in recent weeks, while their world class scrum-half, Conor Murray, is digging out dirty ball because the breakdown is being targeted as a weakness by opponents.

The uncertainty at out-half continues as Tyler Bleyendaal's injury affords Ian Keatley an opportunity to shine and his control on a dirty night will be key. Expect him and Murray to test Pat Lambie's full-back credentials regularly.

Discipline has been a major issue and although Carter is just back from injury he remains a clear danger. His decision-making remains top notch and behind a muscular pack he'll see the conditions as an opportunity to pin the Reds back.

So often, Munster have had to come together to put together a performance that is greater than the sum of their parts and this evening is no different.

On paper, Racing have a clear edge an opportunity to take control of the pool. Munster need to find last season's mojo quickly or risk being left behind.

Verdict: Racing

MUNSTER - S Zebo; D Sweetnam, C Farrell, R Scannell, K Earls; I Keatley, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, R Marshall, S Archer, J Kleyn, B Holland, P O'Mahony (capt), T O'Donnell, CJ Stander. Reps: K O'Byrne, L O'Connor, J Ryan, M Flanagan, J O'Donoghue; D Williams, JJ Hanrahan, A Conway.

RACING 92 - P Lambie; J Rokocoko, H Chavancy, A Tuitavake, L Dupichot; D Carter, M Machenaud (capt); E Ben Arous, C Chat, B Tameifuna; B Le Roux, L Nakarawa; W Lauret, Y Nyanga, A Claasen. Reps: D Szarzewski, V Afatia, C Johnston, B Chouzenoux, E Maka, T Iribaren, R Tales, A Vuvivuli.

Ref - JP Doyle (England)

Munster v Racing 92, Live, Sky Sports Arena, 5.30

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