From darkness into the light of the U Arena: Racing 92: 34 – Munster: 30


From an email from Francis whom I met with Racing came to Thomond 12 months ago.  It’s not often the waterboy makes pride of place on the advert 🙂

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.


11 comments on “From darkness into the light of the U Arena: Racing 92: 34 – Munster: 30

  1. From twitter:
    Rob: Great read Gayl. Sincerely hope the way forward isn’t indoor stadiums with awful pyrotechnics! I agree an opportunity gone begging after the great work against the Tigers.
    From Facebook: James: Perhaps I’m a Luddite but I prefer when the show is on the pitch side of the whitewash with supporters then responding. For all the glitz, the atmosphere seemed quite flat, at least that’s how it appeared on TV. As for the game, it was one that we could have and should have won. They players will really have to sort out their discipline and also adapt to how the man in the middle is deciding things. Also given the conditioning of some of the R92 players, I thought running the legs off them would be the order of business. And finally, for all the leaders on the pitch yesterday, there was, I thought, a lack of leadership. We live to SUAF another day but it’s last chance saloon.
    Michelle replied to James: Least sterile of any French stadium I’ve been to. Phenomenal venue. Great atmosphere imo.

    Roisin wrote: We could have won, unfortunate with kicks off the post etc and our discipline really needs to be sorted out. Racing may yet rue not going for the BP but hopefully the results go our way Sunday. First though I’ll be at the Munster A game friday night, really great to see the link in your blog to photos from their away game last week. Great to see Ronan O’Mahony back finally, hopefully he will be in Cork this week

  2. Whilst the venue is a sight to behold it is not a rugby stadium. I did enjoy the build up to the game and the light show was pretty cool but once the game started it was pretty obvious it was lacking. The piped music over the sound system didn’t help matters, it was like they were trying to artificially create an atmosphere. I have been to plenty of munster games in France and always found the French supporters to be passionate and vocal but this was missing on Sunday. The atmosphere was a little better in the 2nd half when the piped music stopped. Thankfully not many teams can afford a stadium like it

    • Thanks for the eye witness account Paul. The entrance was certainly dramatic. During the game I thought I heard piped music once but we had the wonderful DOC on co-commentary duty so the sound from the crowd did not come across so much and I was not sure if it was the TV sound system or not. As I wrote on my facebook page I thought the Clermont games had the best atmosphere that I have experienced in France but I have not been to that all many places there yet. I do think their Yellow Army is impressive though. See you Sunday!

  3. Thanks for the blog again Gayl. Totally agree with your sentiments on GG,

  4. Hi gayl – on principle i am against artificial pitches and I am puzzled by the racing closed at all times version. Rugby is not an indoor sport.
    I don’t think people realise how much of an advantage it gives to the home team – not just in the bounce of the ball but in most facets of running jumping kicking and passing as well. There are also long term considerations such as the effect it may have on player welfare from harder rebound effects.
    Having said all that they may be inevitable due to pressure from the “change at all costs” and marketing crews – to the detriment of players in my opinion.

    • Thanks Patrick. They plan on making it pay for itself as a concert venue and you could see that potential from the dramatic entrance. I think Munster adapted very well to the conditions but the home teams familiarity does give them an advantage and told in the end. I saw lots of positives to take from the performance if we can cut down the penalty count. Hoping for a good draw in QF assuming we overcome Castres on Sunday. Thanks to Leicester they have something to play for on Sunday also so best not count our chickens

  5. Hi Gayl, Thanks yet again for the blog. I flew over from Shannon on Saturday morning and the atmosphere at the airport was great. Once in Paris things were different, Many were staying in hotels in Central Paris, others nearer the ground, which is a a commercial district. So there was no apparent build up of Munster fans such as we have seen in Castres, Perpignan, Clermont or most other french venues. Near the stadium on Sunday afternoon there was clearly more Munster fans, but having the stadium so far from the centre, may be necessary but does not help the visiting fans to create prematch atmosphere.

    The stadium is amazing, but more like a concert venue than a rugby ground. Huge screen at one end – the width of the pitch, but it only showed match stats. Two very much smaller screens each side of the big screen showed the match, but the scales smaller than the ones in Thomond. There was a great atmosphere in the place before the match with a brass band playing and gangs of Racing and Munster fans welcoming the Racing team together. The Munster team having already arrived when we got there. The Racing supporters gave us wristbands giving access to the supporters club bar, and were very hospitable. Inside the stadium itself, is pretty amazing with lighting effects to the fore. During the match it was difficult to get a Munster atmosphere as there were only a few clumps large enough to set things off. Racing had recorded noise to start and generate their supporter’s chants, but we still managed to make ourselves heard, but being at places like this really puts the Thomond atmosphere into perspective , we are lights years better than almost any other venue one goes to.

    The match itself was frustrating, especially the multiple penalties in the first half. We should also know by now that refs don’t (or almost never) change their minds and giving another 10 yards on a penalty can be the difference between winning and losing. Our second half performance was stunning and we really put Racing on the back foot as our greater fitness seemed to be telling. Keith Earls was the man of the match for us, he really looked dangerous every time he got the ball. Anyway, the bonus point could make the difference for us depending on how we get on next weekend.

    Looking forward to Sunday, more especially as one of my grandsons will be appearing at half-time playing for Crosshaven! See you then, Regards,


    • Thanks Paul, appreciate the detailed account. Hopefully we will have a great atmosphere on Sunday to end the pool stages on a high although 1pm on a Sunday is not the most conducive time for that. Still it suits me for a day trip from Dublin and knowing the results from Fri & Sat will make it interesting too. You’ll have to point out your grandson to me!

  6. Great read Gayl, especially as this time I wasn’t at the match. (Well I was there at noon, but once the 4pm announcement was made, I was done for and had to leave unfortunately). The blog has even more value than normal. Qualifying for quarter-finals is almost treated as normal for Munster, but it is a massive achievement and the team were brilliant on Sunday. See you on the WT!

    • Not sure how you managed to comment on last weeks blog but I know you meant it for this week! The delayed kickoff impacted a lot of folks so it was great to see so many did manage to make it and the players really appreciated it also. Someone even got Zebo’s boot / boots as a souvenir!

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