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Late JJ drop-goal slips wide as Russell inspires Racing to draw in Limerick

Johann van Graan’s men nearly grabbed a late, late win at Thomond Park.

Munster 21

Racing 21

IT FELT AS if it was going to be one of those unforgettable nights at Thomond Park once again as JJ Hanrahan dropped into the pocket and the Limerick crowd held its breath, willing the drop-goal to bisect the posts.

A late Andrew Conway try and Hanrahan’s excellent conversion had given Munster a chance at the death but, ultimately, it was disappointment as the out-half’s effort slipped narrowly wide and the visiting Racing 92 were able to celebrate an impressive away draw in the fortress that is Thomond Park.

While Munster did avoid slipping to just their sixth home defeat in the Heineken Cup, losing a fixture in Limerick could prove costly if Saracens can cause them problems in their back-to-back European ties next month.

cj-stander-dejected-after-conceding Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Having opened with a bonus-point win last weekend away to the Ospreys, Munster will have deep frustrations with failing to secure a victory back on home soil, though Racing deserve major credit for efforts.

Classy out-half Finn Russell was at the heart of most of Racing’s best moments, with a brilliant solo score in the first-half the highlight as he nutmegged a Munster defender with a grubber kick before regathering to dot down. 

He also teed up left wing Juan Imhoff’s second-half try with a superb break, while right wing Teddy Thomas scored a stunning first-half try after collecting his own chip kick.

Familiar faces returned to Thomond Park with Racing in the shape of Donnacha Ryan, who was strong in the second row, and Simon Zebo, who managed to prevent a Hanrahan try in the opening half, but perhaps former Munster scrum-half Mike Prendergast was most impressive of all as his Racing attack shone.

Munster scored an excellent try through Keith Earls on the stroke of half time to keep themselves in the mix, but Racing will rue a missed penalty shot in the second period that would have left them 24-14 in front. 

Johann van Graan’s men managed to rally for an impressive late Conway score but the winning drop goal didn’t materialise. A home draw leaves Munster with plenty still to do in this Heineken Cup pool.

finn-russell-makes-a-break Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Munster enjoyed more than 60% of the possession and territory in the opening half but found themselves trailing 14-11 at the break, albeit boosted by Earls’ excellent score in the left corner in the 40th minute.

Van Graan’s side had been first off the mark with a Harahan penalty after Racing number eight Antonie Claassen blatantly held Conor Murray off the ball as he approached a ruck, with Munster showing plenty of attacking ambition early in the game.

That threat included fullback Mike Haley making a scything 17th-minute break on kick return but that was immediately followed up by Murray’s pass rebounding off the head of Niall Scannell, with Racing pinning Munster into their 22 with a kick on the turnover.

Munster botched that lineout in their 22, Scannell hammering his low throw at Peter O’Mahony for a knock-on, and Racing scored off the resulting scrum as they earned an advantage after Camille Chat’s explosive carry. Using that advantage cleverly, the skillful Russell clipped a short grubber kick in between Rory Scannell’s legs and regathered himself to dive over to the left of the posts for a beautiful score that was converted by influential scrum-half Teddy Iribaren.

Munster missed a chance to swiftly hit back as Hanrahan’s clever break in midfield was followed up by Rory Scannell dropping Jack O’Donoghue’s slightly wayward pass forward inside the Racing 22.

But the home side did narrow the margin when Zebo passed forward on a Racing counter-attack, with Munster’s pack turning the scrum into a penalty and Hanrahan taking his chance off the tee.

jj-hanrahan-makes-a-break Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Racing’s response was lethal, however, as Zebo made a dangerous run before Iribaren darted down the shortside and threw a clever skip pass to Thomas down the touchline. The exuberant France international sprinted outside Murray and then dinked a perfect chip over the head of Haley, collecting on the bounce and scoring under the sticks.

Iribaren’s straightforward conversion had Racing 14-6 to the good but, typically, Munster mustered a response in the ‘championship minutes’ before the break, even if it took a few efforts to finally get over.

First, Munster were held up over the tryline after some direct carrying from the likes of Chris Farrell. Referee Matthew Carley went back for an advantage, which Munster tapped and Hanrahan very nearly scored, only for Zebo to knock the ball loose just as the out-half was stretching out to ground it.

Racing then had a big break off a maul through flanker Wenceslas Lauret right up the Munster 22, where Iribaren lost control of the ball and Munster hacked ahead for Niall Scannell to win a determined penalty chasing down Racing captain Henry Chavancy, who failed to released the ball.

Munster went up the right touchline, Murray had a sniping dart from the lineout play, before clinical catch-and-pass skills from Hanrahan and Haley in a 3-on-2 gave Earls a sniff down the left touchline, where he fended off his old mate Zebo and dived into the corner for a rousing score.

Hanrahan was just wide with his conversion effort but Munster were back within three points heading into the second half.

keith-earls-celebrates-scoring-his-sides-first-try Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Donnacha Ryan uncharacteristically knocked the restart on and Iribaren soon kicked out on the full in a poor opening few minutes to the second half from Racing, the latter error resulting in Munster producing an inventive lineout attack that allowed Haley to break, drawing a penalty from Lauret for not rolling away.

Hanrahan equalised but the level scoreline lasted just two minutes as Racing produced a third try in the blink of an eye.

Russell was the key figure as he dummied and broke between O’Mahony and loosehead prop Jeremy Loughman before drawing up Haley from the backfield and feeding left wing Juan Imhoff on his inside.

Conway almost tracked back to scrag him but Imhoff just skipped clear to finish under the posts, Iribaren slotting his third conversion.

The left-footed Racing scrum-half had a chance to make it a two-score margin in the 54th minute with a penalty from out on the right after Haley was caught trying to counter out of his 22, but the shot at goal was just wide.

Racing continued to threaten with their daring skill, Thomas a constant danger out on the right, where his interplay with Iribaren nearly resulted in a fourth try heading into the final quarter, only for Thomas’ grubber ahead to have too much on it.

teddy-thomas-celebrates-scoring-a-try-with-juan-imhoff Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Centre Virimi Vakatawa then knocked-on as Russell continued to probe, with Munster desperate for any moments that could build momentum.

One such appeared in the 67th minute after van Graan had virtually emptied his bench, the replacement front row winning a penalty that allowed Rory Scannell to kick for touch down on the Racing 22.

Munster battered at Racing until space opened wide on the right, Scannell firing a long pass out to Conway who threatened for a moment before a superb covering tackle from Iribaren resulted in the Ireland international wing knocking on.

The southern province were back knocking on the door with 10 minutes remaining, a penalty allowing them to kick into the left corner, from where they hammered at the Racing tryline until a knock-on from the visitors as they tackled with desperation.

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The five-metre scrum provided a prime chance for van Graan’s side and they battered for inches with their initial carries, before a double skip pass from Hanrahan on penalty advantage floated wide right for Conway to dive into the corner for a superb score.

Hanrahan’s brilliant conversion was met by a deafening Thomond Park roar, the Munster support urging their side to find a winner with four minutes remaining. 

Munster hammered a kick deep into the Racing 22 off the restart and then disrupted the French side’s lineout to earn their own throw and a late chance to build towards that possible winning score.

They powered through phase after phase once again until Hanrahan dropped into the pocket and sub scrum-half Alby Mathewson, making his final appearance for the province, delivered the pass back to him.

The Munster out-half connected to another roar that rapidly turned into a collective groan as Hanrahan’s drop kick slipped wide to the left. 

Munster scorers:

Tries: Keith Earls, Andrew Conway

Conversions: JJ Hanrahan [1 from 2]

Penalties: JJ Hanrahan [3 from 3]

Racing 92 scorers:

Tries: Finn Russell, Teddy Thomas, Juan Imhoff

Conversions: Teddy Iribaren [3 from 3]

Penalties: Teddy Iribaren [0 from 1]

MUNSTER: Mike Haley; Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Rory Scannell, Keith Earls; JJ Hanrahan, Conor Murray (Alby Mathewson ’62); Jeremy Loughman (James Cronin ’50), Niall Scannell (Kevin O’Byrne ’65), John Ryan (Stephen Archer ’54); Jean Kleyn (Fineen Wycherley ’54), Tadhg Beirne (Billy Holland ’62); Peter O’Mahony (captain), Jack O’Donoghue (Arno Botha ’54), CJ Stander.

Replacements: Dan Goggin.

RACING 92: Simon Zebo; Teddy Thomas (Brice Dulin ’64), Virimi Vakatawa, Henry Chavancy (captain), Juan Imhoff; Finn Russell, Teddy Iribaren (Antonie Gibert); Eddy Ben Arous (Hassane Kolingar ’55), Camille Chat (Teddy Baubigny ’55), Cedate Gomes Sa (Ali Oz ’55); Donnacha Ryan, Dominic Bird (Fabien Sanconnie ’58); Wenceslas Lauret, Boris Palu, Antoine Claassen (Yoan Tanga Mangene ’80).

Replacements: Ben Volavola.

Referee: Matthew Carley [England].

About the author:

Murray Kinsella  / Reports from Thomond Park

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