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'At this level of rugby it’s ruthless' - Racing's Prendergast feels Munster aren't far away

The French side are targeting trophy glory in the Champions Cup this season.

MIKE PRENDERGAST WAS pleasantly surprised when Racing 92 sat down before the season to talk about their ambitions, particularly when the Champions Cup came up.

Fresh into his position as attack coach with the Parisian club, the Irishman had been used to how some French teams viewed European competition as very much secondary.

mike-prendergast-arrives Prendergast and Racing before their win over Munster. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The old clichés about the Top 14 sides only really caring about their domestic league have been proven false several times with Clermont, Toulouse, and Toulon investing so much energy into the Champions Cup, while Racing have been as impressive as any French team in more recent years as they have reached two finals.

And this season they are very serious about Europe again, something that was underlined as they overcame a spirited Munster challenge on Sunday in Paris to book themselves a quarter-final place with a pool game to spare.

“That’s one thing I noticed coming into Racing this year, there is that hunger for the Champions Cup, which is great,” said Prendergast after their 39-22 win over Munster.

“It’s probably instilled from having somebody like ROG [Ronan O'Gara] in before and Donnacha [Ryan], that mentality is there.

“It was a big shock when I came in when we sat down at the start of the year and what our goals were and whatnot. Obviously, the Top 14 is huge but you can see it every week that the Champions Cup is in front of us – the body language by everyone, the intensity at training just lifts that extra notch, which traditionally over the years for French teams hasn’t always been the way but thankfully it is here. 

“The boys have been close before, came up a bit short and they really want to go to the next one, which is great for us as a coaching staff.”

A home quarter-final would obviously help their cause – as well as their already enviable finances – and Racing now face into a visit to defending champions Saracens on Sunday looking for a huge win to earn it.

mike-prendergast-talks-with-teddy-thomas Prendergast speaks to Teddy Thomas in Paris. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

While it is a difficult task, Racing’s sheer firepower gives them belief. Munster got a taste of just how lethal the likes of Virimi Vakatawa, Finn Russell, Teddy Thomas, and Juan Imhoff can be as they finished strongly in Paris on Sunday.

As Racing’s attack coach, Prendergast admits that such playing quality makes his life easier. The former Young Munster man is certainly helping these individuals to gel, ensuring Racing have perhaps the most dangerous attack in the competition.

“It does help, absolutely, especially when you are winning collisions. That starts up front, I know it’s a cliché but if you win your collisions, you play front foot. 

“Then when you have a passing game and the threat that Finn brings with Virimi outside and Teddy and Juan working in off their wings, you do have great threats around the place but it is about getting the right ball. 

“We’re putting a lot of focus on our ruck because at the end of the day if your ruck doesn’t function and it doesn’t function properly, you’re looking for quick ruck ball it’s going to dent your attack.”

Prendergast did credit Munster for slowing Racing’s ball at times last weekend but, ultimately, the French side’s win means his native province is almost certainly out of Europe.

The former scrum-half had “huge admiration” for Munster’s performance in Paris, suggesting that the final scoreline didn’t accurately reflect how close a contest the game had been for 75 minutes, but the southern province couldn’t stick with Racing in the endgame.

mike-haley-after-the-game A dejected Mike Haley after Munster's defeat. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Prendergast believes Munster are still close to being one of Europe’s best.

“You look at their game against Saracens,” said Prendergast. “I know there was a bit of pressure over the last couple of weeks because they lost to Leinster and Ulster, a lot of players out through player management, the Irish player management resting players, and they had a couple of injuries and stuff. 

“I was saying to our players during the week, ‘Don’t focus too much on that, focus on their last performance against Saracens, where they were very impressive again to 60/65 minutes – not too unlike this – and the game was there to potentially be won and I felt they should have beaten Saracens. So you are looking at 30 minutes of rugby that can change it [the Champions Cup] for you.

“Unfortunately, at this level of rugby it’s ruthless enough and that’s what it came down but absolutely, they’re not that far away. They’re a very good side.” 

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Murray Kinsella

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