Belfast Telegraph

Munster can still live with elite despite defeat, says O'Mahony


Close contact : Racing 92’s Virimi Vakatawa escapes Rory Scannell
Close contact : Racing 92’s Virimi Vakatawa escapes Rory Scannell
Munster’s Andrew Conway scores a try

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

Racing 92's futuristic stadium is located in Paris' business district and in this corner of the City of Love there is no room for romance.

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The wealthy Parisians represent new money in the European landscape. Munster are what counts for the aristocracy but they're being edged out.

They threw themselves into this task as one would expect. A week of stinging criticism from former players and their own professional pride meant that was the minimum.

They raced into a 9-0 lead, were ahead with 10 minutes to go and yet the Parisians claimed a bonus-point, almost double-scores win.

In the end, the simple analysis is that Racing have the better players. They have game-changers all over the park and that matters.

Munster took them into a dark place, but they saw the light. Teddy Iribaren produced the pass of the decade just two weeks in to set up Teddy Thomas for his first try, the winger then somehow grounding Finn Russell's perfectly-weighted cross-kick to break Munster hearts on 71 minutes.

The Reds have no one like Virimi Vakatawa, whose name will ring out in Chris Farrell's house when he wakes up in a cold sweat.

Farrell is a very good player, one of Munster's best, but the Fijian-born France international beat him up here.

Despite the loss, Peter O'Mahony firmly believes that identity counts for something more in this capitalist world and stands by the idea that they can live in this kind of company.

"It's hard to be thinking about it now but this group has always had huge belief and you talk financially, but we always have something different in that we have a huge group of players who have come from the province and who have come through our academy systems," the Ireland flanker said.

"It always has made a difference and we've always complemented that by signing some excellent players from overseas and we have that mix now, and that's always a dangerous mix, the guys who we have and signing well, which we've done."

Racing created their scores with moments of brilliance in attack, while Munster relied on their discipline and defence.

Stephen Larkham is teaching them new tricks and at times their attacking shape looks very good, but they are still struggling to create enough scores.

They got a terrible draw, but that's mainly because they weren't good enough to top their PRO14 conference last season.

If they want to set things up for the arrival of RG Snyman and Damian de Allende next season, they need to at least give themselves a chance of avoiding the biggest hitters.

Still, they will have regrets about moments along the way.

JJ Hanrahan's missed drop-goal in Limerick, CJ Stander's decision to go to the corner against Saracens, the lack of ruthlessness at home to the champions, Jean Kleyn's brainless penalty concession at 9-0 here. They all add up.

Johann van Graan had no comment on the strangeness that surrounded two key TMO decisions where it seemed the television director only offered a handful of available angles.

Perhaps if it had finished a one-score game he might have been of a mind to complain, but he's not one to look for excuses.

Given the draw, the coaching overhaul last summer and the impact of the World Cup, this campaign was always going to be difficult. Throw in their injury issues and it's proven to be a step too far.

The South African is under pressure now, but this is no time for rash decisions. Pound for pound, Munster have been punching above their weight for the last few seasons and it was telling that Van Graan was so reluctant to go to his bench when the players on the pitch were visibly tiring.

They started so well, winning collisions and racking up a 9-0 lead but Kleyn's concession stalled their momentum and things might have got away from them before half-time but for Mike Haley's cover tackle on Juan Imhoff and Andrew Conway's intercept try.

Iribaren's magic put Racing in front, the scrum-half pulling out the most sensational pass to put Thomas over after Vakatawa dropped an earlier pass. It might have gone forward, it was hard to tell, but the TV angles were inconclusive and the score stood.

The scrum-half and Hanrahan traded penalties as the second half went on to set up what might have been a grandstand finish.

Farrell was held up over the line and Billy Holland knocked on under pressure from Imhoff. The second-row suggested the Puma had knocked on, but Wayne Barnes didn't entertain his complaints.

Munster had to settle for three points when they needed to create some daylight.

Instead, it was Racing who crossed next as Thomas superbly grounded after Russell's chip over Keith Earls' head.

Still, it was a three-point game but it was Racing's bench that made an impact as Munster's subs treaded water.

Vakatawa added the third as Munster wilted, before Imhoff secured a bonus point.

Another year has passed them by and it seems like the gap between them and the elite teams is getting wider.

RACING 92: B Dulin; T Thomas, V Vakatawa, H Chavancy (capt) (O Klemeczak 72), J Imhoff; F Russell, T Iribaren (M Machenaud 70); E Ben Arous (H Kolanger 55), C Chat (T Baubigny 70), B Tameifuna (B Gomes Sa 55); B Palu, D Bird; W Lauret, B le Roux (F Sanconnie 73), A Claassen.

MUNSTER: M Haley (S Daly 78); A Conway, C Farrell, R Scannell (D Goggin 78), K Earls; JJ Hanrahan, C Murray (C Casey 78); D Kilcoyne (J Loughman 65), N Scannell (K O'Byrne 78), S Archer (J Ryan 65); J Kleyn (A Botha 70), B Holland; P O'Mahony (capt), J O'Donoghue (C Cloete 73), CJ Stander.

Referee: W Barnes (England)

Racing 9239


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