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Van Graan's Munster left with losing bonus point after absorbing clash in Paris

Johann van Graan’s men will be frustrated with the circumstances of their defeat in Paris.

Racing 34

Munster 30

Murray Kinsella reports from the U Arena

A LOSING BONUS point is hardly a disaster for Munster and leaves them in control of their own destiny at the top of Pool 4 of the Champions Cup with Castres still to visit Thomond Park next weekend.

But to come up short in this absorbing, see-saw battle under the roof at the space-age U Arena will rankle with Peter O’Mahony and his team as they head back to Ireland tonight, the victory having been well within their grasp.

A long-range penalty from Conor Murray, after he had missed with two similar attempts earlier, sent Munster in front just minutes before the end of the contest, but the Irish province couldn’t control the subsequent restart.

Louis Dupichot congratulates Maxime Machenaud after kicking a penalty Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Donnacha Ryan, brilliant against his former team, stole the hanging kick and Racing again punished Munster’s lack of discipline to nudge in front with Maxime Machenaud’s penalty, the scrum-half sealing the win with another three points two minutes later – the Top 14 club bizarrely rejecting the chance to go for a vital bonus-point try.

Racing made superb starts to both halves of the game, scoring important tries in those periods, but Munster demonstrated character to respond strongly in both cases.

Munster’s first-half discipline was a thorn in their side and contributed greatly to Johann van Graan’s men trailing at the break, but they worked their way back in front in a thrilling second half on the artificial pitch in Paris.

The effervescent Keith Earls was an influential figure, with his sizzling try a highlight of their performance, but Munster couldn’t hold their lead when they had eventually nudged in front twice late on in the game.

Racing were powerful and ambitious with ball in hand, the perfect conditions of their impressive new stadium suiting their approach.

The U Arena treated the crowd to a remarkable lights show before kick-off, while the sight of Racing attempting to warm-up with dancers encroaching on their half of the pitch was eye-opening.

It was a thrilling contest, no doubt, but Munster will be disappointed not to have more than their single losing bonus point. They remain a single match point ahead of Racing at the top of the pool, however, and should seal a quarter-final next weekend against Castres.

The target will be a bonus-point win and the possibility of a home quarter-final.

Munster and Racing make their way out onto the pitch Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Following the extraordinary pre-match fun in Paris, Racing made a blistering start after Munster conceded their opening penalty directly from Ian Keatley’s kick-off, coming offside needlessly in the Racing 22.

The Top 14 side claimed clean lineout ball and slick handling sent Teddy Thomas scorching down the right wing into Munster’s 22, before Edwin Maka barrelled through O’Mahony’s tackle attempt and Yannick Nyanga eventually darted cleverly in between CJ Stander and Rhys Marshall to the left of a close-range ruck to score.

Machenaud converted and then made it 10-0 soon after as Munster’s penalty count mounted at an alarming rate.

But Munster eventually settled, with Chris Cloete delivering an important turnover penalty coming towards the quarter mark and halfbacks Murray and Keatley beginning to kick intelligently as they looked to take the sting out of Racing’s early tempo.

One clever Murray grubber kick led to Munster pressuring Racing’s maul deep in the French side’s 22, resulting in a knock-on and scrum that proved to be the platform for Munster’s first scoreboard response.

Centres Rory Scannell and Chris Farrell carried aggressively from the set-piece and then second row Jean Kleyn came thundering around the corner to take Murray’s pass, hammer through Nyanga and reach out at full stretch to dot down, with Keatley converting.

Jean Kleyn scores his sides first try Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

With Munster’s game management now kicking into life and Murray growing as an influence, van Graan’s side appeared to be taking control but they were unlucky to hit the same left post with two penalties from Keatley and Murray – a 48m attempt – to remain behind.

But the real miss of the half came in the 31st minute, after a lovely Earls offload and Simon Zebo’s wondrous one-handed tip on pass to Andrew Conway set Munster onto the front foot.

They recycled at speed in Racing territory, but when they flashed the ball wide right and had Earls unmarked on the touchline, Conway failed to release the pass and instead carried himself, with Zebo turned over two phases later. Opportunity missed.

And Munster’s own lack of discipline told once again just before the break as they first gave up a breakdown penalty and were then marched 10 metres back as captain O’Mahony argued his side’s case with referee Matthew Carley.

Machenaud slotted his shot at goal and Munster trailed 13-7 at half-time, as well as 8-4 on the penalty count.

Maxime Machenaud kicks a conversion Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Munster’s start to the second half was as disastrous as the first, as they tackled weakly on their first defensive set, allowing the likes of Maka and Nyanga to win big yardage and drive up to Munster’s tryline.

From there, Machenaud flicked a pass to left wing Marc Andreu on his touchline and the diminutive France international dived under Stephen Archer’s despairing tackle to score.

Munster’s response was swift, however, and Earls was the leader this time. He danced his way out of the visitors’ half on the counter attack before passing to Marshall, whose pass on into space on the right was slapped down by Ben Tameifuna.

Murray didn’t hesitate in quick tapping and after Munster breached the Racing 22, Zebo swung a pass back to the left for Earls to gather and scorch past the struggling Maka and score to the left of the posts, with Keatley’s conversion on target.

The southern province finally had the lead for the first time in the 52nd minute, with O’Mahony winning a turnover penalty to allow them to kick down the right-hand touchline.

The likes of Scannell and Stander carried well, with the rucking allowing Munster to recycle at a rapid pace, before the number eight pulled a lovely link pass back to Keatley and the out-half cleverly delayed his own short pass to Farrell, the imposing centre breaking Remi Tales’ tackle effort to score to the right of the posts this time.

Keith Earls scores a try despite the efforts of Teddy Thomas Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Again, Keatley converted for a 21-18 advantage but a scrum penalty to Racing allowed Machenaud to level the score within three minutes.

Keatley’s first penalty success of the afternoon put Munster ahead again, punishing Virimi Vakatawa for going off his feet, and then van Graan’s men missed another try-scoring chance down the left.

Earls’ pick-up of a low Zebo pass was sublime but then his offload inside to Murray was just a little too powerful and the scrum-half knocked on with the tryline begging.

With tempers fraying and the replacements making their impact felt, Jack O’Donoghue – on for injured captain O’Mahony – did superbly to turnover a Racing maul and when there were more angry afters following the whistle, Carley punished the French side with a penalty that allowed Keatley to kick Munster six points in front.

This game was a ceaseless see-saw by now though, and an excellent Racing lineout move allowed them to cross for their third try and the lead with 65 minutes played.

Nakarawa drew Munster towards the rear of the lineout with a dummy jumping movement, but replacement hooker Dimitri Szarzewski instead threw short to Nyanga entering late at the front from the receiver position.

Conor Murray kicks at goal Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The dynamic back row thundered through and drew the final defender before returning a pass to Szarzewski to cross the whitewash, allowing Machenaud to convert for a 28-27 lead.

Murray soon had a second long-range penalty effort and the 48-metre distance was no issue but his shot was wide to the right of the posts.

Undeterred, the Ireland international stepped up to the tee again with just six minutes remaining, after Munster’s replacement props John Ryan and James Cronin powered to a scrum penalty.

Third time was the trick and Murray, from inside his own half, smashed the three points over to give Munster the lead.

But that man Ryan came back to haunt Munster with a brilliant take of the restart, and O’Donoghue infringed at the breakdown to give Racing another chance to retake the lead.

Machenaud was presented with a difficult shot from wide on the right but he maintained his excellent form off the tee to swing the score back to 31-30 in Racing’s favour.

And a poor clearance kick from Keatley within a minute saw more pressure piled on, another breakdown penalty given up and another three points from the boot of Machenaud from under the sticks extend the Racing lead to the final 34-30 score.

Racing scorers:

Tries: Yannick Nyanga, Marc Andreu, Szarzewski

Conversions: Maxime Machenaud [2 from 3]

Penalties: Maxime Machenaud [5 from 5]

Munster scorers:

Tries: Jean Kleyn, Keith Earls, Chris Farrell

Conversions: Ian Keatley [3 from 3]

Penalties: Ian Keatley [1 from 2], Conor Murray [1 from 3]

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.

Referee: Matthew Carley [RFU].

The42 has just published its first book, Behind The Lines, a collection of some of the year’s best sports stories. Pick up your copy in Eason’s, or order it here today (€10):

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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