Belfast Telegraph

Too little too late as Munster suffer another last-four defeat

Racing 92 27 Munster 22

Looking glum: A dejected Simon Zebo after the defeat
Looking glum: A dejected Simon Zebo after the defeat

By Robert Jones

Racing 92 ripped the Munster defence to shreds with three tries in the opening 21 minutes to set up an eventual 27-22 win at Stade Chaban-Delmas that sealed their second Champions Cup final appearance.

Runners-up in 2016, the French giants will meet unbeaten Leinster in the decider in Bilbao in three weeks' time, while Munster return to domestic matters after suffering a sixth European semi-final defeat since 2009.

Any thoughts of an all-Irish final quickly evaporated in the 28-degree Bordeaux heat, the travelling Munster hordes left reeling by Teddy Thomas' blistering brace of tries and a Thomas-created converted score from Maxime Machenaud.

The deficit was 24-3 at half-time, Ian Keatley and Machenaud trading penalties as Racing continued to be ruthlessly efficient. Former Munster lock Donnacha Ryan was a central figure.

A Machenaud penalty took his haul to 17 points before his future club-mate Simon Zebo's 63rd-minute try sparked a revival which yielded further scores from Rhys Marshall (75) and Andrew Conway (80), closing the gap to five by the final whistle.

It looked ominous for Munster when they fell behind after just four minutes.

Camille Chat's overthrow blew Racing's first attacking opportunity, but their forwards' powerful carrying teed up winger Thomas, who handed off Alex Wootton to score in the right corner.

Machenaud's excellent conversion made it a seven-pointer and, while CJ Stander and Stephen Archer won penalties either side of a counter attack from Wootton and Andrew Conway, Munster's decision-making was visibly off.

Fly-half Keatley got Munster on the board when punishing a Leone Nakarawa offside in the 16th minute.

Thomas was celebrating his second try soon after, his international colleague Virimi Vakatawa doing the damage with a superb surge from halfway, handing off Jean Kleyn in the process.

Racing's hulking forwards continued to flood over the gain-line, splintering an already overworked Munster defence, and Thomas brilliantly stepped inside two defenders to gift Machenaud a 21st-minute try.

Machenaud's metronome right boot extended the lead with a penalty just two minutes into the second half.

The province were second best at the breakdown too, a rare error from Racing seeing a Machenaud penalty come back off the crossbar.

The Racing-bound Zebo lifted spirits with a high-quality finish past two defenders, equalling Anthony Foley's Munster record of 23 European Cup tries.

Munster kept plugging away and a lineout maul snaked over in the right corner with replacement hooker Marshall grounding the ball.

Hanrahan converted and also added the extras to Conway's try in the final play, the province's quarter-final hero touching down from a Zebo kick-through.

Belfast Telegraph


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