'This team is pretty emotionally intelligent' - Erasmus proud of Munster in Paris

The southern province moved to the top of Pool 1 of the Champions Cup with a big win over Racing.

IT ONLY TOOK seven minutes for the Munster fans to get The Fields of Athenry going at Stade Yves du Manoir on Saturday evening, as they looked to play their part in the tribute to Anthony Foley.

The southern province’s supporters had travelled in their hundreds, with many taking up the incredibly generous offer from Racing 92 fans of free accommodation in Paris for the rescheduled tie.

Racing 92 and Munster fans before the match Racing and Munster fans outside Stade Yves du Manoir. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Munster’s relationship with Clermont fans has grown famously in recent years, but Racing’s following have endeared themselves to the Munster faithful in an unforgettable manner this season. They will be welcomed to Thomond Park gratefully later this month.

The Red Army and their Racing counterparts carried out something of a guard of honour for the arriving teams pre-match in Colombes and the crowd of 9,223 in the stadium made great noise on a bitterly cold and damp evening.

Certainly, Munster as an organisation appreciated the hospitality, which perhaps extended a little too generously onto the pitch as Racing gave up a bonus point on home soil.

First of all, I have to commend the French crowd and the way they invited us here and honoured us here with the minute’s applause,” said Munster director of rugby Rassie Erasmus post-match. “Overall, in a sad way, it was a nice situation.”

There was, of course, that tinge of sadness as Munster returned to the city where Anthony Foley passed away in October. It has been a whirlwind 12 weeks for the province ever since, but they have coped resolutely.

Erasmus must have expected a testing first season, but certainly never in this manner. The South African has been an impressive figure at the helm in such a difficult time, but he pointed back to his players when asked about his experiences in recent months.

“It was tough at times but this team is pretty emotionally intelligent and mature,” said Erasmus. “If you look at their ages, they are really young but I think this whole episode – if I can put it that way – as a team they have done really well.

Simon Zebo after the match Simon Zebo was happy with Munster's win. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

“Sometimes, for me, they have made it easy. I could see that right off, to make it easier for me I saw them do things where I think they were sometimes concerned for me. And sometimes I was concerned for them so I really think that everybody, not just the team, but management and outside management, I think it was definitely a team effort.

“It was not one guy saying, ‘This is how we are going to do it.’ As a team, we made most decisions as a group.”

Munster’s maturity has helped them to win 10 of their 11 games since Foley passed away, with this latest humbling of Racing among the more comprehensive victories.

Erasmus, as ever, was at pains not to get carried away by Munster’s success, but he did admit to some pride at the way his team had gone about achieving this fine result.

On the Friday [before the originally scheduled game in Paris], I discussed with Axel how, when you are playing these French boys who bring on even bigger French boys after 50 or 60 minutes, you can’t get into an arm-wrestle for 80 minutes,” said Erasmus. ”You will probably struggle size-wise and momentum-wise.

“So, I’m so glad and relieved. Just for that fact because I know Axel was right in what he was trying to say.

“And we tried to play that way today, so that is why everybody can be proud of our guys today and also for Axel because that is how he would have encouraged them to play the game.”

Among the few concerns for Munster after Saturday’s win was another knock on the ankle for Tommy O’Donnell, while Erasmus admitted he was worried about “four or five guys at this stage” in terms of injuries.

Tommy O'Donnell makes a break Tommy O'Donnell makes an early break for Munster. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

The southern province travel to Glasgow on Saturday for a mouthwatering clash with Gregor Townsend’s Warriors, who are an entirely different “kettle of fish” to Racing.

“They just play all-out attack, with a mobile forward pack,” said Erasmus. “They contest well at lineout and breakdown so it is definitely a different challenge. You might want to get involved in an arm-wrestle with them!”

A run of three European games in a row is a new experience for Munster in a season full of them, with Racing set to visit Limerick in the final round on 21 January.

While Munster will be expected to round off their efforts with another commanding victory in that tie, it is still a heavy workload for Erasmus and his squad.

Not that they will be complaining for a second.

“What we have learned from the whole Axel thing is, you know, don’t look at the next thing. We have buried a friend in the week and had to play on the Saturday, so don’t moan about three Euro games in three weeks; we just have to get on with it.”

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