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Racing deliver a stern test, but Munster grind their way to home quarter-final

Ian Keatley’s late try ensured Munster are second only to Clermont after the Champions Cup pool stage.

Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Munster 22

Racing 10

Sean Farrell reports from Thomond Park

MUNSTER WERE MADE to work for everything by Racing 92, but work they did and eventually got exactly what they needed from this Champions Cup pool one finale.

Tries from Simon Zebo, Ronan O’Mahony and Ian Keatley on top of another terrific pack effort secured a home Champions Cup quarter-final and second-seed status.

Ronan O’Gara’s downtrodden yet seething post-match demeanour a fortnight ago was a clear warning for Munster. The 7 -32 loss in Paris hurt the Top 14 champions. So despite leaving their brightest lights in France, le Ciel et Bleu had pride in abundance to display before bowing out of this tournament.

After an initial burst of intent from Munster, the visitors owned the first quarter of the game, sucking momentum from Munster by dominating territory and ensuring no collision was a comfortable one for the men in red.

Any of the 26,200 fans who wrapped up for Thomond Park expecting to see a bonus point win come easily were soon resetting goals. CJ Stander and Jaco Taute provided the breakdown muscle to break the siege and then it was their turn to build an onslaught.

The scrum, complete with the enforced early addition of Dave Kilcoyne, was a potent weapon and pinned Racing onto their line for long periods before half-time. Conor Murray thought he had grounded after an NFL-style dive over the top of the ruck, but Marc Andreu did just enough for the TMO to decide he had knocked it on.

With Stander, as ever, blazing a trail and leaving tacklers in his wake, out-half Benjamin Dambielle earned a yellow card when killing the ball after the number eight burst to within 10 metres of the try-line.

This time, though it would take almost 10 minutes of pressure, Munster were not leaving the 22 without their try. The long-awaited breakthrough came thanks to Zebo and that scrum, the fullback brilliantly wriggling through heavy traffic for a 37th minute try.

Simon Zebo scores the firs try of the game despite Matthieu Voisin and Maxime Machenaud Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Not content with merely providing the breakthrough, the Corkman had some heroics to perform at the other end before the break. Andreu broke from midfield with plenty of green space to raid until the fullback glided across and took him to ground.

There was to be a reward for the visitors though as Maxime Machenaud punished a stray Peter O’Mahony hand with a penalty to leave the scoreline 7 – 3 at the interval.

Saracens’ win over Toulon set Munster a target of an 11-point win to seal a place as second seed in the quarter-finals and that message seemed to be ringing in ears at the start of the second period as Bleyendaal kicked an early penalty.

The bonus point didn’t matter, but tries never hurt the cause and Munster struck a beautiful second on 48 minutes, O’Mahony sliding over after diving to catch Rory Scannell’s inviting pass.

Leone Nakarawa is tackled by CJ Stander Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The visitors clawed Munster back inside that 11-point margin thanks to an outstretched Henry Chavancy arm. But this Munster outfit are increasingly difficult to deny.

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Though there were some worried faces as the clock ticked across the 70 mark and Zebo was called ashore, Andrew Conway stepped up to create the spark in attack, holding off his tackler long enough to pop an offload back inside to Keatley – in his first play of the game – sliding over for his first ever European try.

Tomorrow will bring some more jostling for play-off places, but Munster are safely nestled between Clermont and Saracens and will not fear anyone at Thomond Park when the Champions Cup returns to Limerick in April.

Scorers

Munster

Tries: S Zebo, R O’Mahony, A Conway

Conversions: T Bleyendaal (2/3)

Penalties: T Bleyendaal (1/1)

Racing

Tries: H Chavancy

Conversions: M Machenaud (1/1)

Penalties: M Machenaud (1/2)

Yellow Card: B Dambielle (29 mins)

Munster: Simon Zebo (Ian Keatley ’69); Andrew Conway, Jaco Taute (Francis Saili ’47)
Rory Scannell, Ronan O’Mahony; Tyler Bleyendaal, Conor Murray (Duncan Williams ’76):

James Cronin (Dave Kilcoyne ’12), Niall Scannell (Rhys Marshall ’60), John Ryan (Thomas du Toit ’67); Jean Kleyn (Billy Holland ’52), Donnacha Ryan; Peter O’Mahony, Tommy O’Donnell, CJ Stander.

Racing 92: Brice Dulin; Teddy Thomas, Henry Chavancy, Etienne Dussartre (Albert Vulivuli ’62), Marc Andreu; Benjamin Dambielle (Franck Porteau ’62), Maxime Machenaud:

Eddy Ben Arous (Julien Brugnaut ’60), Camille Chat, Ben Tameifuna (Cedate Gomes Sa ’76); Manuel Carizza, Leone Nakarawa (Ali Williams ’65); Yannick Nyanga (Chris Masoe ’64), Matthieu Voisin, So’otala Fa’aso’o

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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