Racing 92 v Munster, Sunday, 4.15pm local time/3.15pm Irish. Live on Sky Sports Action
As if Simon Zebo’s impending departure to Racing 92, following in the footsteps of Donnacha Ryan, was not enough to highlight the gulf in spending power between the two, Munster’s venture into the U Arena tomorrow assuredly does.
The Parisian club's new, enclosed, all-seated 32,000 capacity stadium in Nanterre in the west of Paris cost a whopping €360 million, thanks to the largesse of their billionaire president, Jacky Lorenzetti, founder of the real estate agency Foncia.
By contrast, Racing’s playing roster – vastly more expensive to assemble than Munster’s comparatively home-grown squad – is but a mere pittance, albeit it is reckoned that Lorenzetti spends several millions of euros at the end of each season to mop up a chronic deficit.
This will be the first European game to be held in the U Arena, Racing having hosted and beaten Toulouse and Clermont, either side of winning away to Oyannax. They thus become the first side ever to play four consecutive games on 4G pitches, which adds further complications for Munster against a Racing side which has won seven of their last eight Top 14 games.
In a striking statement of their good health, and most unusually for a French side, their co-coaches Laurent Labit and Laurent Travers, have named an unchanged side – indeed an unchanged matchday 23 – from the side which beat Clermont 58-6 last week. Their starting XV contains a dozen French internationals, with one of them, Rémi Tales, continuing to deputise for the injured Dan Carter.
Their Fijian Leone Nakarawa has again been picked at number eight, and in tandem with Yannick Nyanga, underlines their threat to the Munster lineout.
Johann van Graan has highlighted that threat this week, as well as “a long kicking game”, adding: “They frustrate you and if you give them a bad kick, they punish you. They’re very good around kick-off time, picking through rucks and we will have to be clever around that.
“Probably the most difficult thing is how do you stop their offloads?” adds van Graan.
Racing have averaged almost 13 per game in the pool stages, to Munster’s six, and here again Nakarawa, aka Octopussy, leads the way with 14 offloads in four games, not to mention his three tries.
“They’ve got a lot of height. Do you compress? Because if you compress and they get it away, they’ve got speed on the outside. Do you keep your width? Then they will punish you on the inside.
“But it’s great to be involved in games like this, everybody involved sees it as a great challenge going in there with great excitement. To get a result against Racing away from home will be a big result for us.”
Racing have also shown a capacity for racing into early leads which, critically, Munster need to stymie here.
Indeed, they are unlikely to dominate as they did in the corresponding away fixture last season and, more likely, will need to retain their composure in weathering storms as they did in their win at Welford Road last time out and repeat their excellence at the breakdown that day.
RACING 92: L Dupichot; T Thomas, V Vakatawa, H Chavancy, M Andreu; R Tales, M Machenaud (capt); E Ben Arous, C Chat, B Tameifuna; D Ryan, E Mak; Y Nyanga, W Lauret, L Nakarawa.
Replacements: D Szarzewski, V Kakovin, C Gomes Sa, B Chouzenoux, B Palu, X Chauveau, B Dambielle, J Rokocoko.
MUNSTER: S Zebo; A Conway, C Farrell, R Scannell, K Earls; I Keatley, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, R Marshall, S Archer; J Kleyn, B Holland; P O'Mahony (capt), C Cloete, CJ Stander.
Replacements: K O'Byrne, J Cronin, J Ryan, D O'Shea, J O'Donoghue, J Hart, JJ Hanrahan, A Wootton.
Referee: Matthew Carley (Eng).
Previous meetings: (2012-13) Racing 22 Munster 17, Munster 29 Racing 6. (2016-17) Racing 7 Munster 32, Munster 22 Racing 10. (2017-18) Munster 14 Racing 7.
Results so far: Racing – 22-18 v Leicester (h), 7-14 v Munster (a), 13-16 v Castres (a), 29-7 v Castres (h). Munster – 17-17 v Castres (a), 14-7 v Racing (h), 33-10 v Leicester (h), 25-16 v Leicester (a).
Leading try scorers: Racing – Leone Nakaraw 3, Louis Dup[ichot 2. Munster – Simon Zebo 2.
Leading points scorers: Racing – Maxime Machenaud 18. Munster – Ian Keatley 37.
Betting (Paddy Powers): 4/7 Racing, 17/1 Draw, 6/4 Munster. Handicap odds (Munster + 4 pts) 10/11 Racing, 19/1 Draw, 10/11 Munster.
Forecast: Racing to win. Munster to salvage a bonus point.