A result is not beyond Munster – but perhaps a win is
Rassie Erasmus’ side begin Champions Cup quest with considerable challenge of Racing
Munster Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus ahead of their Champions Cup opener against Racing 92. Photo: Inpho
The sight of Ronan O’Gara on the sidelines as part of the opposition think-tank will add to the sense of discomfiture for Munster and their supporters in Paris. If anybody can help to plot their downfall, it is their legendary former outhalf.
Of some comfort is the absence of Dan Carter, who is still sidelined a calf strain. However, this is offset by the return of South African utility back Johan Goosen, recently crowned last season’s Top 14 player of the year ahead of Carter. He comes in at 10.
As for Munster, Rassie Erasmus has made one enforced change. With Keith Earls still following return-to- play protocols, South African international Jaco Taute will make his European debut for the province at outside centre.
Thankfully though, given the four-week ban imposed on James Cronin, Dave Kilcoyne has completed his concussion protocols and will start in the frontrow. Tyler Bleyendaal will make a long-awaited European debut from the start, as will winger Darren Sweetnam.
It’s been a long time since Munster travelled into a game as 13-point underdogs, but they probably have a better chance than those odds suggest. For sure, they have much to rectify from last week, but then again much of it is rectifiable.
Uppermost amongst their ‘work-ons’ is their retention of possession, and particularly to look after the ball in contact. It would help them no end if they at least sought softer shoulders rather than carry bull-like into contact, which would also facilitate quicker ball given the poaching skills of Yannick Nyanga and Chris Masoe. That said, so much hinges on the ball-carrying of CJ Stander.
They’ll need to cover their backfield better too, as O’Gara will surely have noted the space in behind which Johnny Sexton and Robbie Henshaw exploited last week.
Akin to their season, Racing started slowly last week. Their scrum has been sufficiently problematic for the coaches to successfully implore Jacky Lorenzetti to bring back Patricio Noriega as scrum coach. But Dimitri Szarzewski – the tournament’s most accurate lineout thrower in last season – is still out and Peter O’Mahony and co are capable of making inroads there.
One imagines referee Wayne Barnes, as is his wont, will have a telling impact. The return of the gifted Goosen probably tips the tie further toward the home side, but Munster are not without hope if they can rediscover their old European spirit and just play accurately. A win may be much to ask but they can extract something from this game.