Knives at a gun fight: The 21 minutes that killed off Munster

Teddy Thomas was sensational in opening quarter of the game as Racing stormed ahead

Teddy Thomas scores a try for Racing 92 in their Champions Cup semi-final win over Munster. Photo: Nicolas Tucat/Getty Images

Teddy Thomas scores a try for Racing 92 in their Champions Cup semi-final win over Munster. Photo: Nicolas Tucat/Getty Images

 

It had just gone 21 minutes when Teddy Thomas took on the ball in a right channel and turned in field side stepping and gliding through the thin red line of the Munster defence. The Racing and France winger cantered towards the posts, stopped stone dead, kissed the ball and threw it to his little scrumhalf Maxime Machenaud, who touched down.

It would have been a hat-trick for Thomas and why he puckered up with the ball rather than claim the try will forever go down as a European Champions Cup semi-final curiosity. What Thomas realised as the clock ticked towards 22 minutes was that Racing, in a blazing start, had already scored three tries and all but closed out the match.

Thomas ripped the heart out of Munster’s championship. In space his burning acceleration spooked the defence, scattered a backline which lacked big time experience to curse Munster into a game of catch up that despite the final score line didn’t seem or look like it could happen.

“We literally put the foot to the floor,” said former Munster and current Racing lock Donnacha Ryan describing Racing’s perfectly executed opening.

Never has a team that has become famous for engineering wins from the most flimsy of opportunities looked so fragile and thin in confidence during those opening high tempo exchanges. Munster appeared awkward and out of character with even the usually immaculate Conor Murray over running a covering tackle to be left grasping the disturbed air left by Fijian lock Leone Nakarawa, Thomas again the beneficiary ghosting off on a solo run, a comet tail of red shirts chasing him.

Munster have never done fragility in this competition. It was five minutes when Thomas opened them to score his first try. Munster don’t second guess themselves or each other, especially in France in semi-finals. It was 18 minutes when the winger ran in for his second try.

Munster never look flat footed, never show a body language that speaks of vulnerability and disarray. It was 22 minutes when Thomas closed the door and kissed goodbye to any possibility of an all Irish final in Bilbao next month.

“They started the game like a team on fire,” said Munster coach Johann van Graan, who cut a hollowed out figure in the heat of Bordeaux. Van Graan seemed unsure of what had taken place and although Munster hit back with three tries and penalised Racing heavily for winger Marc Andreau drawing a yellow card, the picking apart of his defence so easily had stuck with him.

On the day Munster brought a knife to a gun fight and will learn from it. All too late for and Irish dream final.

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