From the blackness on the TV screen I knew this was no ordinary venue. Instead of starlight or moonlight as we sometimes see at Thomond there were just flickers from camera phones in the stands before strobe lights swept across the pitch. The players emerged as the tunnel was illuminated, running onto the dark pitch as the lights came up fully. The video clip in the tweet below is worth watching if you missed the game. It was the type of spectacle you would find at a concert and I look forward to hearing from friends who were there what they thought of it. I read some comments about piped music and a trumpet player so what was it like? Speaking of music it was great to hear the Fields of Athenry ring out during the game and to see familiar faces in the crowd scenes when the cameras swung their way to capture their celebrations of Munster scores.
Is this the future? Not many clubs could afford that level of investment in their facilities. Do the artificial 4G surface and the closed roof – eliminating any wind advantage / disadvantage – sterilize some of the elemental nature of rugby – nullifying the whole game of two halves scenario when the conditions can equate to a 10 point spread etc? Plenty to discuss next Sunday on the terrace before the Castres game or please add a comment with your views.
So on to the game in hand. A losing bonus point and holding Racing 92 to fewer than 4 tries was the minimum requirement before the game. After going 10-0 down within 8 minutes I would have grabbed it but looking back on the game there is a sense of opportunity lost. The opportunity to qualify for a home quarter final is one key element. Of course there were several shocks over the weekend which changed the potential make-up of the quarter-finalists so who knows how things will unfold next weekend. Having a Sunday kick-off means that the permutations will be a lot clearer after the games on Friday and Saturday as to the likely make-up of the last eight. The bad weather forecast over the coming week may also have an impact, especially on the ability to score a bonus point try. Leicester sent a very callow team to Castres so will they roll over when Racing visit or put on more of a fight for their home support?
A penalty conceded in the first minute again set the worrying tone of the first half as Munster racked up 8 penalties (plus four in the second half). It gave early momentum to the home team. An impressive sprint across the pitch by CJ Stander to combine with Conor Murray succeeded in shutting down an initial attack of Teddy Thomas. However, the home team retained possession as they played with incredible tempo. Thomas made another foray, then Nyanga before Nakarawa took it on. Maka barged over the 5m line, then Machenaud tried to dart forward. From the ruck Nyanga picked, went and scored. Machenaud converted. Just minutes later a high tackle resulted in a penalty kicked between the posts to make it 10-0.
A grubber kick proved awkward to handle for Machenaud under pressure from Conway giving Munster a foothold in the Racing 22. Peter managed to disrupt clean ball from their lineout. The rest of the pack kept up the pressure in the subsequent phases to force a knock-on. From that scrum Rory Scannell and Chris Farrell carried well before Murray got the ball to Jean Kleyn who used his long arms to reach the try line and score. Keatley converted and the 10-7 scoreline looked a lot healthier as Munster continued to grow into the game.
A subsequent penalty attempt came off the post but Munster missed a great opportunity when Conway did not manage to get the ball to Keith Earls in space on his outside. The build up to that had featured a breath-taking passage on 29 minutes when Keatley put Earls through a gap. Earls passed to Zebo who flicked the ball onto Conway. Joe wouldn’t like that I was thinking but it was great to see Munster stretching the defence!
A penalty on half-way saw Conor Murray lining up a kick in the 36th minute. Unfortunately it hit the same post as had Keatley’s earlier attempt. In the closing minute it was a penalty conceded by Peter O’Mahony who protested he was being held in so could not roll away. His protest lead to the referee Matthew Carley penalizing Munster a further 10m which made it an easier kick for Machenaud who put it between the posts to leave the score at 13 – 7 at half time.
Racing started the second half at the same high tempo they had started the first and again in the 2nd minute they got their reward as winger Marc Andieu benefitted from a flick by Vakatawa to stretch the defence and score in the corner.
Munster found the perfect response just minutes later. Earls made a wonderful break despite having to backtrack initially to rescue a poor pass. When Racing were penalised for a deliberate knock-on by their tight-head Munster took it quickly and after good probing up one wing by Farrell and Murray, Zebo gave a long pass to Earls who eyed up the defence and took a sumptuous line through to score a fantastic try. Keatley added the conversion to make it 18-14. You can vote for that as try of the round here
When Munster were next to score through Chris Farrell after a wonderful pass from Ian Keatley to make it 18-21 we began to dream of a home quarter final! However with half an hour to go there was plenty of drama left.
A penalty to Racing enabled Machenaud draw them level. Keatley converted a penalty minutes later to restore Munster’s advantage. Another penalty won by Jack O’Donoghue (on for the injured Peter O’Mahony) helped Munster draw 6 points ahead but only briefly before Racing showed their class to score their third try through their replacement hooker from a lineout after a poor clearance kick by Earls. The successful conversion gave them a one point lead.
Lining up another long range penalty effort in the 73rd minute (won by a great scrum by the pack) Conor Murray edged Munster in front 28-30 but from the restart Donnacha Ryan led the charge. Putting Munster under pressure he won a penalty which Machenaud kicked to nudge Racing back into a slender one point lead. Munster went looking for glory. Andrew Conway chased the restart hoping to knock it back to a red hand. As a result there was a big gap when Racing kicked deep. Keatley raced back for it but under pressure his clearance kick failed to find touch. Their centre Vakatawa gathered the kick and charged for the line. Racing forced a penalty from Munster right in front of the posts. Fortune favours the brave but Racing decided not to risk going for a bonus point try which could have resulted in topping the pool and depriving Munster of a losing BP. Opting for the penalty kick they moved 4 points clear and so it ended. Given the inexperienced side which Leicester sent to Castres it is hard to know if that decision will haunt them should they get a BP win next weekend.
RACING 92: Louis Dupichot; Teddy Thomas, Virimi Vakatawa, Henry Chavancy, Marc Andreu; Remi Tales, Maxime Machenaud; Eddy Ben Arous (Vasil Kakovin ’53), Camille Chat (Dimitri Szarzewski ’53), Ben Tameifuna (Cedate Gomes Sa ’48); Donnacha Ryan, Edwin Maka (Boris Palu ’48); Yannick Nyanga, Wenceslas Lauret (Baptiste Chouzenoux ’75), Leone Nakarawa. Replacements not used: Xavier Chauveau, Benjamin Dambielle, Joe Rokocoko.
MUNSTER: Simon Zebo (Alex Wootton ’73); Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Rory Scannell, Keith Earls; Ian Keatley (JJ Hanrahan ’79), Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne (James Cronin ’56), Rhys Marshall (Kevin O’Byrne ’75), Stephen Archer (John Ryan ’56); Jean Kleyn, Billy Holland; Peter O’Mahony (captain) (Jack O’Donoghue ’56), Chris Cloete, CJ Stander. Replacements not used: Darren O’Shea, Duncan Williams.
Match reports from The42.ie, the Irish Examiner and the Irish Independent while Gerry Thornley in the Irish Times gives an insight also to the matchday experience in the new U Arena. Post match thoughts of CJ from Tuesdays Examiner
The stats from ESPN are here
Donnacha Ryan squeezed into Keith Earls’ jersey for his post match chat with Michael Corcoran!
Thanks to Luke who volunteered after last weeks blog and has since completed the Q&A to feature in an edition of this blog one of the weeks when there is no Munster game! Maybe after seeing how it goes with him others might be brave enough to volunteer to feature 🙂
There has been a lot of media coverage since last week of the 2 year ban served by Gerbrandt Grobler for use of performance enhancing drugs. I agree with Anthony Horgan on this topic:
The hypocrisy of Kimmage reminds me of the words from the bible about let him without sin cast the first stone. Taking performance enhancing drugs is wrong but making it a lifetime ban on a first offence would be very harsh. Would I feel the same if he was with another team? He played with Racing last season but I would not have been aware of his past then. There will always be a cloud over him but I look forward to seeing him make a contribution to Munster this season.
Edit: adding this blog from Roarz, not a Munster supporter for his perspective.
Congrats to the A team on their win in Nottingham. Some great action shots from that game taken by a local photographer are here. Pity I cannot get to the game on Friday night but hopefully they will continue their great form.