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Munster's dire first-half leaves them with too much to do against Racing

Johann van Graan’s side scored late consolation tries but were clearly second best in Bordeaux.

Racing 27

Munster 22

Murray Kinsella reports from Stade Chaban Delmas

THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT Munster and European semi-finals.

For the sixth time in a row, the southern province fell at this hurdle, with Johann van Graan’s men blown away by an utterly dominant first-half performance from Racing 92 – who advance into the Champions Cup final to face Leinster in Bilbao on 12 May.

Munster’s tackle completion rate of just 66% told the tale of the opening 40 minutes, as their desperately poor defence was cut open for a brace of tries from France international Teddy Thomas, who could have had his hat-trick only to gift the third Racing try to his captain, the superb Maxime Machenaud.

Teddy Thomas crosses the line before setting up /Maxime Machenaud for his side third try Teddy Thomas was lethal on the right wing for Racing. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Trailing 24-3 at the break, Munster had an intimidating mountain to climb in the second half and though they scored two late consolation tries, they were clearly second best to Racing.

Whether it was the huge amount of travel Munster had racked up in their recent two-week Pro14 tour of South Africa or the heat in Bordeaux since they arrived yesterday, there was lethargy in their legs early in the game.

They finished much the stronger of the two teams, with their bench managing to make an impact but that first-half collapse left them with far too much to do.

Simon Zebo scored a try after he was sprung from the bench for Alex Wootton as early as the 43rd minute, that surprise selection decision being something that van Graan and his coaches may have some regret about.

Racing’s power, offloading and passing ability all stood out during that tidal wave of three tries in the opening 23 minutes, with outside centre Virimi Vakatawa particularly impressive in possession.

Man of the match Machenaud was brilliant at scrum-half – always competitive and accurate – while former Munster man Donnacha Ryan was typically dogged and hard-working in a Racing pack that put the Irish side’s lineout under intense pressure.

From the evergreen Yannick Nyanga to the dazzling Thomas, Racing had all the most impressive individuals, with many of Munster’s important leaders struggling to get a grip on the game.

Munster fans look on Munster had excellent support in Bordeaux. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

In 25°C heat, slightly cooler than initially forecast, Munster kicked-off to a booming rendition of The Fields of Athenry, but left themselves needing a miracle with their nightmarish first-half showing.

An early loose kick from Ian Keatley invited Racing pressure, only for hooker Camille Chat to overthrow the five-metre lineout that followed soon after.

The French side were far more clinical in the fifth minute, however, as Munster gave up the gainline with repeated soak tackles, the likes of Leone Nakarawa, Nyanga and Chat doing damage with carries before Vakatawa’s sharp skip pass from left to right allowed Thomas to score his first past Wootton.

Captain Machenaud converted from the right touchline before Keatley missed touch with a penalty to give up an opportunity to provide Munster with a good attacking platform.

A big scrum penalty gave Munster a chance to build into the game inside the Racing 22, but they went for a drop goal early in their phase play, a panicky effort from Keatley that was blocked down. Munster regathered possession, but then Rory Scannell missed with a second drop-goal attempt from even further out.

Keatley did steady himself to knock over a 17th-minute penalty to the right of the posts but Racing had a clinical answer just over a minute later.

Vakatawa was the creator again, stepping back inside Conor Murray near the halfway line and then throwing out an explosive left-handed fend to beat Jean Kleyn and scorch through the Munster defence, before he drew in Andrew Conway and sent Thomas clear to score.

Teddy Thomas scores his sides second try Thomas scored two early tries. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Machenaud converted for 14-3 and though a short water break followed, Munster couldn’t find their defensive strength.

In the 23rd minute, the impressive 34-year-old Nyanga busted through O’Mahony’s tackle attempt out on the right, before centre Henry Chavancy scorched through a hole in Munster’s defence as Racing moved back to the left.

When they recycled and again bounced across towards the right touchline, Vakatawa hit Thomas again and the delightfully-talented wing danced inside two desperate Munster tackle attempts and evaded the despairing Billy Holland to dart over yet again.

Thomas kissed the ball when he rounded underneath the posts but instead of dotting down, he cheekily popped the ball off to his supporting captain, Machenaud instead grounding and then converting for a 21-3 lead.

The rot continued for Munster as a huge Racing maul won them a penalty as Stander swam up the side, Machenaud again successful from the tee.

Munster managed to keep Racing out for the rest of the half but their attack never got firing as lineout failures – under severe pressure from the Top 14 side – cost them dearly.

There was one five-metre scrum chance in the closing minute, after Sammy Arnold had been held up over the tryline, but the influential Vakatawa pounced for a turnover penalty to send Munster into the interval in a dire position.

Teddy Thomas passes to Maxime Machenaud to score his sides third try Thomas pops to Machenaud for Racing's third try. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Munster’s start to the second half was disappointing too as Murray showed a rare slip of anger when he dumped Marc Andreu to ground as they scuffled for the ball after it had gone into touch, Machenaud taking advantage with another three points.

In response, Van Graan opted to send on a completely new front row of James Cronin, Rhys Marshall and John Ryan, while Zebo also replaced Wootton, meaning a shift to right wing for Conway and Earls moving out to the left.

Munster then enjoyed a lengthy stint in the Racing 22 but it ended with a turnover penalty for Machenaud after the Irish province attacked from a five-metre scrum.

JJ Hanrahan and Robin Copeland appeared off the bench as Munster searched for a way back into the game, but their bench never made an impact.

Racing’s power told once again in the 55th minute as their maul marched its way up to Munster’s 10-metre line, van Graan’s men coming in the side as they attempted to stop it, although Machenaud hit the crossbar with his 40-metre shot at goal.

Captain Peter O’Mahony was held up by an excellent tackle from Chavancy in the 61st minute, just after replacement Dan Carter had made a try-saver for Racing on Rory Scannell.

But there was finally a lifeline for Munster as Racing wing Andreu was yellow-carded for deliberate offside just in front of the French team’s tryline.

Simon Zebo with Virimi Vakatawa Zebo came off the bench to score for Munster. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Munster tapped the resulting penalty and worked the ball wide to the left, where Zebo managed to stretch over for a try that Hanrahan couldn’t convert.

Munster trailed 27-8 but there was suddenly momentum on their side. From the restart, Murray’s half-break sparked an attack from deep that took them into the Racing half, replacement lock Gerbrandt Grobler handling well.

Zebo’s wide pass to Copeland in clear space on the left touchline was forward, however, to the dismay of the Munster fans.

Sub hooker Rhys Marshall burrowed over for a 76th-minute try from a close-range maul and Conway scored in the final minute, but it was mere consolation.

Munster’s must now focus on the Pro14 as they hope to end the season with trophy success.

Racing scorers:

Tries: Teddy Thomas [2], Maxime Machenaud

Conversions: Maxime Machenaud [3 from 3]

Penalties: Maxime Machenaud [2 from 3]

Munster scorers:

Tries: Simon Zebo, Rhys Marsall, Andrew Conway

Conversions: JJ Hanrahan [2 from 3]

Penalties: Ian Keatley [1 from 1]

RACING 92: Louis Dupichot (Dan Carter ’56); Teddy Thomas, Virimi Vakatawa (Joe Rokocoko ’59), Henry Chavancy, Marc Andreu (yellow card ’63); Pat Lambie, Maxime Machenaud (captain) (Teddy Iribaren ’75); Eddy Ben Arous (Vasil Kakovin ’51 – reversal ’79), Camille Chat (Dimitri Szarzewski ’51 – reversal ’66)), Cedate Gomes Sa (Viliamu Afatia ’51 – reversal ’79); Donnacha Ryan, Leone Nakarawa; Wenceslas Lauret, Bernard Le Roux (Baptiste Chouzenoux ’56), Yannick Nyanga (Antonie Claassen ’59).

MUNSTER: Andrew Conway; Keith Earls, Sammy Arnold, Rory Scannell, Alex Wootton (Simon Zebo ’43); Ian Keatley (JJ Hanrahan ’53), Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne (James Cronin ’43), Niall Scannell (Rhys Marshall ’43), Stephen Archer (John Ryan ’43 – reversal ’60); Jean Kleyn (Gerbrandt Grobler ’60), Billy Holland; Peter O’Mahony (captain), Jack O’Donoghue (Robin Copeland ’53), CJ Stander.

Replacement not used: James Hart.

Referee: JP Doyle [RFU].

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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