So we are heading back to Paris; what welcome can we expect?
The Racing 92 Supporters have opened their homes, offering accommodation to the travelling Munster fans; old school rugby at its best. But on the pitch Racing are a bizarre team to analyse. They rarely lose at home but are bottom of Pool 1.
Racing’s selection is expected to change but watching the “second string” is often a window into a team’s heart as “lesser” players rely on team structures more than individual brilliance.
Timing of games in Europe has always been crucial with Racing now vulnerable as Munster continue to strengthen. October was very different as something has happened to Racing since they beat Toulon at home and Leicester away on the way to playing Saracens in last year’s European final.
On broad brush strokes they are very deceiving. In losing they’ve understandably scored half the tries compared to Munster’s tally but bizarrely they’ve outrun Munster metres by 80 per cent with a massive 360 per cent more offloads. Yet they’ve lost their three European matches.
They’ve suffered some disruption with players such as Luke Charteris but not to the extent their European performances imply. So I’ve isolated two minutes of Racing’s attention to detail; from their first European home game against Glasgow. Remember they had lost away to Leicester so I assume they were gunning for a rebound victory at home.
Dan Carter kicked off and from the breakdown Glasgow scrumhalf Ali Price as expected box kicked. With three Racing players triangulating on the ball Glasgow right winger Tommy Seymour sailed unchallenged and gathered easily. Racing added further apathy to their opening after Maxime Machenaud pulled Seymour down they completely conceded the breakdown with number eight Antonie Claassen totally indifferent to counter rucking the vulnerable ball.
From the breakdown Racing’s defensive line strolled its way towards Glasgow. A silly error from Glasgow centre Alex Dunbar turned over the ball to Racing; who did what?
But firstly; for the opening 38 seconds the home team looked totally disinterested in righting the loss to Leicester. Meantime Munster were tearing Leicester apart. But now Racing had the ball (without earning it – big lesson for Munster) and off they went.
Centre Anthony Tuitavke carried into heavy Glasgow traffic and made yards. However he landed on his back – terrible ruck technique. Racing spread the ball wide with lots of indulgent pops and passes until left wing Juan Imhoff found contact once more. His technique was a tad better but the recycle inexplicably took over five seconds; down to very poor Racing clear outs.
Prop Eddy Ben Arous then carried narrow and was stripped in contact with the ball spilling; totally unacceptable.
Racing regained and headed right through a dreadful back line attack with Casey Laulala switching off first receiver Brice Dulin before hitting the deck. In this case Laulala’s body position was the worst thus far; lying parallel to the touchline with a shambles of a Racing breakdown totally exposing the ball to Glasgow with a recycle of six seconds.
Racing split their attack and headed blindside where Carter, making a half break, decided to right hand backdoor pass inside to tighthead Cedate Gomes Sa who had three opposition players on him. The ball spills again.
The quality of Racing’s play ball in hand can deceive as it is oft times appalling, relying totally on individual brilliance on the ball. They get offloads but their technique is below any benchmark you will see here in the Irish provinces. Focus on their breakdown play and you’ll see a total lack of technique from the arriving players not aided by a meek entry rarely clearing the opposition jackal – such as Peter O’Mahony!
That opening 1:28 minutes was terrible but when phenomenal All Black winger Joe Rokocoko took contact for the first time on exactly two minutes my heart sank. With four metres to the Glasgow line Rokocoko was met by one of the smallest players on the pitch, Glasgow scrumhalf Price who pulled him down and again the ball spilled. Rokocoko had worked hard to get from his right wing but losing the ball on hitting the deck is not something you associate with an All Black or indeed any Irish player.
Does this 120 second cameo tell Racing’s true story? Tomorrow will tell but contrast them to the trajectory Munster have been on since October 16th and you will understand why I am so energised by Munster and have almost given up on French rugby. Munster have a wonderful chance to redeem that narrow loss against Leicester.I urge you to watch their opening 120 seconds and their attention to detail on that occasion.
I guarantee that Keith Earls would not allow a box kick to be pinched from him without a huge fight. Likewise watch Munster ball carriers as they enter traffic on their terms. Watch the subsequent body position on the deck; perpendicular to the touchline with long arms to place the ball at Conor Murray’s feet.
Tommy O'Donnell and Darren Sweetnam are huge losses, with the latter especially impacting Munster's symbiotic back three; balancing safety whilst adding great value to the ball. Racing did score a cracker off a scrum when Carter skipped two players to Laulala exposing Glasgow's narrow scrum defence.
Racing can do it but while the TV commentary noted "what a breathless, ambitious, bright start from the Parisians", I totally disagree. The game is 4,800 seconds long but tomorrow's opening 120 will tell a lot. Is it mindset or is it technique? email@example.com