Munster keep their noses in front despite Racing’s slim victory

Losing bonus point keeps Johann van Graan’s side on top of Pool 4 ahead of final round

 

Racing 34 Munster 30

A surreal setting for a slightly surreal game. Munster had more than enough of it, and certainly more than enough chances, but while it could most certainly have been better, it could have been worse too.

With each team on three tries and Racing 31-30 ahead, the home side had a penalty under the Munster posts. But rather than go for the fourth try which would have put them above Munster in Pool 4, they opted for another Maxime Machenaud penalty which gave them the comfort of a four-point lead but left Munster still leading the group.

Ultimately, Machenaud’s seven from eight kicks for a 19-point haul was the difference, as Munster left three penalties behind – two of them hitting the upright. A wild, fluctuating ragged encounter finished with an 11-11 penalty count, with both sides in animated fury with referee Matthew Carley – even the normally composed Conor Murray.

Ultimately though, despite having much the better capacity to play at a high tempo and attack space, with Keith Earls looking razor sharp on the 4G surface, Munster will rue their wastefulness and also a plethora of poor exits.

Their ill-discipline had been a source of much debate leading into the match, and to concede a penalty for offside when Racing recycled Munster’s kick-off was also eminently avoidable. Off quick lineout ball, Racing created an extra man on the opposite side of the pitch when Louis Dupichot released Teddy Thomas, requiring Murray to make a trademark covering tackle.

A few phases later, during which time Leone Nakarawa carried hard and Edwin Maka ploughed through Peter O’Mahony’s tackle, Yannick Nyanga plunged over. Machenaud converted and after a third penalty in the first seven minutes against Munster, then made it 10-0.

When Murray sniped, Carley pinged Ian Keatley for going off his feet, making the penalty count 5-1, before Chris Kloete poached for a penalty after Rory Scannell tackled the charging Henry Chavancy.

Good lineout pressure on the Racing throw helped earn an attacking scrum, from which Rory Scannell took Munster over the gainline with a fine carry, as did fellow centre Chris Farrell, before Jean Kleyn took Murray’s pass to punch through the tackles of Nyanga and Thomas to score. Keatley converted.

Supreme in the air, an outstanding trio of takes by Earls, Simon Zebo and Andrew Conway led to Zebo being obstructed by Nakarawa when chasing his own kick, but Keatley’s 45-metre penalty struck the upright. After creative work by Keatley and Earls, Zebo’s deft one-handed flick released Conway, but a few phases later Conway couldn’t get what would have been a difficult long pass away to an unmarked Earls and the chance was gone.

Another brilliant take by Zebo, who was high tackled by Wenceslas Lauret, saw Murray attempt a 50-metre plus penalty allowing for the angle 14 metres in from the left touchline, only for his mighty effort to hit the same left-hand post. The postman always knocks twice. Conway almost reached a cheeky chip over the middle from Murray, but the high bounce eluded him.

Instead O’Mahony was pinged for not rolling away and, as importantly, was punished another 10 metres for dissent. So Machenaud gave Racing a flattering 13-7 interval lead. Against that, Munster could take heart from the way they recovered from their rickety start, and had so much of the first half.

However, on the resumption, Racing resorted to their one-off, power game and consistently won the collisions. Maka and Chavancy both busted tackles by Scannell before Andreu took Tales’s flicked pass and Zebo’s tackle to score in the corner, although it looked worthy of checking with the TMO.

Munster’s response was to up the tempo some more – Earls starting and finishing a 60-metre move with a dancing counter-attack which was stymied by Ben Tameifuna’s knock-on. Murray tapped the penalty, and from his own carry on the blindside, Keatley and Zebo worked the ball around the back for Earls to beat Nakarawa, Maka and the covering Machenaud. Keatley converted to make it 18-14.

Better followed when Keatley found a good penalty to touch. Munster set up the maul but instead Kloete moved the ball out to Murray at first receiver, who offloaded for Scannell to again get Munster over the gainline. Generating rapidly quick ball, Keatley ran and passed for Farrell to score.

Racing refreshed much of their lumbering tight five, ill-equipped for this pitch and brand of rugby, and the re-enforcements earned a scrum penalty for Machenaud to draw the sides level. O’Mahony was then replaced by Jack O’Donoghue, and when Virimi Vakatawa was penalised for hands on the deck, Keatley restored Munster’s lead from 45 metres.

Now it was The Fields echoing around the U Arena.

If the supporting Murray had held on to Earls’s hard pass inside, after a stunning pick-up from Zebo’s cut-out pass, they’d have been 10 points clear soon after. Instead Thomas beat CJ Stander on the blindside to break clear, but Nakarawa ran in front of the ball carrier.

Munster gained much psychological energy from holding up a Racing maul for a turnover – O’Donoghue to the fore – which became a penalty when Dimitri Szarzewski threw the ball at Kloete. Keatley landed it, but Earls coughed up a lineout 25 metres out with his touch-kick from the kick-off, and Munster dozed off when Nyanga caught and rumbled untouched before returning the ball to Szarzewski for a soft try. Machenaud’s conversion put Racing back in front.

Murray had the distance but was wide with a penalty from just inside half-way, before a strong Munster scrum earned him another shot from just outside half-way. Third time’s a charm. Murray’s thumping a 51-metre penalty went straight down the middle.

However, the increasingly animated Donnacha Ryan brilliantly chased down the kick-off from Tales, and O’Donoghue was penalised for playing the ball on the deck. Machenaud was not inclined to miss, again, and added another routine three-pointer after another horrendous Munster exit, Keatley slicing his kick to pin them in trouble.

Racing might have been better off going for a fourth try, so earning a bonus point and denying Munster one, to put them top of the pool, as Machenaud’s fifth penalty had no material effect on the table. So Munster stay top. Just.

SCORING SEQUENCE – 3 mins Nyanga try, Machenaud con 7-0; 9 mins Machenaud pen 10-0; 21 mins Kleyn try, Keatley con 10-7; 40 (+1 min) Machenaud pen 13-7; (half-time 13-7); 43 mins Andrieu try 18-7; 46 min Earls try, Keatley con 18-14; 52 mins Farrell try, Keatley con 18-21; 54 mins Machenaud pen 21-21; 57 mins Keatley pen 21-24; 64 mins Keatley pen 21-27; 65 mins Szarzewski try, Machenaud con 28-27; 75 mins Murray pen 28-30; 76 mins Machenaud pen 31-30; 78 mins Machenaud pen 34-30.

RACING 92: Louis Dupichot; Teddy Thomas, Virimi Vakatawa, Henry Chavancy, Marc Andreu; Rémi Tales, Maxime Machenaud (capt); Eddy Ben Arous, Camille Chat, Ben Tameifuna; Donnacha Ryan, Edwin Maka; Yannick Nyanga, Wenceslas Lauret, Leone Nakarawa.

Replacements: Cedate Gomes Sa for Tameifuna, Boris Palu for Maka (both 47 mins), Dimitri Szarzewski for Chat, Vasil Kakovin for Ben Arous (both 52 mins), Joe Rokocoko for Dupichot (73 mins), Baptiste Chouzenoux for Lauret (75 mins). Not used: Xavier Chauveau, Benjamin Dambielle.

MUNSTER: Simon Zebo; Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Rory Scannell, Keith Earls; Ian Keatley, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Rhys Marshall, Stephen Archer; Jean Kleyn, Billy Holland; Peter O’Mahony (capt), Chris Cloete, CJ Stander.

Replacements: Jack O’Donoghue for O’Mahony (55 mins), James Cronin for Kilcoyne, John Ryan for Archer (both 56 mins), Alex Wootton for Zebo (73 mins), JJ Hanrahan for Keatley (78 mins), Kevin O’Byrne fo Marshall (75 mins). Not used: Darren O’Shea.

Referee: Matthew Carley (Eng).

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