Friday 17 August 2018

Rassie Erasmus reveals how Munster players had correctly predicted pivotal try at half-time

Munster 14 Racing 92 7

Conor Murray of Munster goes over to score his side's first try during the European Rugby Champions Cup Pool 4 Round 2 match between Munster and Racing 92 at Thomond Park in Limerick. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Conor Murray of Munster goes over to score his side's first try during the European Rugby Champions Cup Pool 4 Round 2 match between Munster and Racing 92 at Thomond Park in Limerick. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Andrew Conway scores Munster’s second try in the European Champions Cup victory over Racing 92 at Thomond Park last night. Photo: Diarmuid Greene. Photo: Sportsfile
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

Storm Brian may not have had the meteorologists on the edge of their seats this weekend but it was enough to define the nature of this Pool 4 contest in front of 22,054 hardy souls in Thomond Park. It was a horrible night, with a combination of wind and rain that made progress of any sort very difficult. At its end Munster had picked up their first win of the campaign, and Racing had got a bonus point for their troubles. Which was fair enough.

It was a fairly dramatic swing for Ronan O'Gara's side. With 10 minutes left in a game that we feared would end scoreless they had found themselves no fewer than 14 points off the pace. To have left with nothing would have made the short hop to Paris feel like a trek.

Racing 92's Antonie Claassen (C) is tackled by Munster's Tommy O'Donnell. Photo: Getty Images
Racing 92's Antonie Claassen (C) is tackled by Munster's Tommy O'Donnell. Photo: Getty Images

Then, in the last play of the game, they were looking short odds to break even. A run of penalties had taken them to within sight of the Munster line, and with the home side bracing themselves for the mauled lineout, the easy part seemed to be the connection between replacements Dimitri Szarzewski and Baptiste Chuzenoux. The second-row spilled it however. And Munster were safe.

"I'm glad we won, man," Rassie Erasmus said afterwards. "There were a few lineouts that went through our hands earlier in the game. They certainly had momentum and they had fresh, big guys so it would have been a tough ask for us to keep them out, so lucky they missed it. I'll take that."

"I am happy enough with the result.

"It is tough to play a certain way in the game, tough to get the ball wider than your fly-half. You could see with (Dan) Carter playing in their team, they even struggled to get it right.

Racing 92's Dan Carter. Photo: Getty Images
Racing 92's Dan Carter. Photo: Getty Images

"Racing would have come here with confidence and we had a little bit of a confidence-dent not winning last week, so it was really a tough game to control tactically.

"It was more who had the most guts out there. It definitely wasn't perfect. I think in the conditions it may have been perfect, but you can't go into this game and analyse anything, because it was just tough to play."

The South African added: "It was weird to go in 0-0 at half-time. It was one of the few games that you see which was scoreless, but I thought it was a really intense encounter. I don't think it was boring.

"For me it was nice to enjoy it and at half-time, funnily enough, the boys in the changing room said, 'Listen, we are going to score from a charge-down'. That is exactly what the guys said.

"They had been so close to charging the ball down every single time. The actual message on defence was that we are going to score on a charge-down. Then we score from a charge-down (through Murray). That was really bizarre."

The relief was palpable, for two points from their first two games was not part of the Rassie Erasmus budget. With Tigers emptying Castres in the other game in this pool, it meant anything less than four points would have been a disaster.

Instead they are up and running. It's two seasons since their last European defeat at this ground - by the Tigers, coincidentally - but such was the battle to survive the elements anything could have happened. Even a no-score draw.

We're not sure the last time we had 0-0 at half-time but this one had a barren look to it from a long way out. The conditions were king, and Racing looked happy enough with the way it panned out.

They are a side who look comfortable enough picking and jamming their way through the trenches. And while it's enervating stuff, with a clatter of stoppages between spilled balls and injuries it made for plenty of chance to draw breath. And if you're lugging around the amount of poundage that Ben Tameifuna carries then every break is a welcome one.

It was interesting rather than absorbing. Munster had a slight edge in the scrum, but not enough to turn it into points. And in any case it would have needed to be virtually under the black spot before they would allow Ian Keatley to call for the kicking tee.

Instead Munster were driven towards kicking penalties to touch and grunting from there. The problem was that Leone Nakarawa was a hard man to get past at the front of the lineout. And then when Munster were in a good position, midway through the half, and awarded a penalty which despite the wind was a handy enough conversion, Conor Murray ran it only for Racing to defend manfully and turn it over.

The closest we came to a try chance was through Joe Rokocoko - on 24 minutes he was put through one on one with Keatley, and with what can best be described as an unorthodox tackle the outhalf saved the day.

The worrying stat for Ronan O'Gara at the break would have been seven penalties conceded by his side - six in the first 21 minutes alone - to three for the home side. If they were to run out of gas in the second half then that trend would likely continue. They finished on 11. And lost the try count 2-1. The breakthrough came just after the hour mark when Murray blocked a kick from Machenaud and scooped the ball up expertly to score in the corner. Keatley hit a great conversion from the corner.

It completed a fairly miserable afternoon for the Racing scrumhalf. He had lost his partner Dan Carter early - he got a bang to his knee in the first few minutes and seemed hampered thereafter. Moreover, the captain had regularly been in dialogue with referee JP Doyle - a series of conversations that didn't seem to be giving him much joy.

Then on 70 minutes, with Munster clearly on top and getting good traction in the Racing 22, man of the match Dave Kilcoyne did his bit - Rory Scannell just about got his pass away to Andrew Conway to slide over in the corner. That too was fitting, for Conway is hard done-by not to be in the starting side, and he was good again here when he came on.

Just when we were composing words of consolation for Racing, however, they got a bit of momentum to roll around the corner a few times putting Nakarawa over. That's when the crowd started sweating. The return in Paris in January will be interesting.

Scorers - Munster: Murray, Conway try each; Keatley 2 cons. Racing 92: Nakarawa try; Iribaren con.

Munster: S Zebo; D Sweetnam (A Conway 55), C Farrell, R Scannell, K Earls; I Keatley, C Murray; D Kilcoyne (L O'Connor 76), R Marshall (K O'Byrne 63), S Archer (J Ryan 53), J Kleyn (M Flanagan 55), B Holland, P O'Mahony (capt), CJ Stander, T O'Donnell (J O'Donoghue 71)

Racing 92: P Lambie; J Rokocoko, H Chavancy, A Tuitavake, L Dupichot (Vulivuli 57); D Carter (R Tales 52), M Machenaud (capt)(T Iribaren 72); E Ben Arous (V Afatia 52), C Chat (D Szarzewski 52), B Tameifuna (C Johnston 52), B le Roux (E Maka 72), L Nakarawa, W Lauret, A Claasen, Y Nyanga (B Chuzenoux 71).

Referee: JP Doyle (England).

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