Racing 92 rip into Munster to reach Champions Cup final
Donnacha Ryan was a central figure for the French club.
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 stinging 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 third converted score from Racing captain Maxime Machenaud.
The deficit was 24-3 at half-time, Ian Keatley and Machenaud trading penalties as Racing, who had lost three of their last meetings with the Irish province, 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 an encouraging counter attack from Wootton and Andrew Conway, Munster’s decision-making was visibly off.
Fly-half Keatley had a poor start, missing touch from a penalty and having a drop-goal attempt charged down. Rory Scannell was wide with a subsequent drop, but 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, and giving the 24-year-old speedster a simple run-in.
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, unselfishly passing to the scrum-half behind the posts.
Munster’s reliable players were letting them down, two key lineouts going astray with Yannick Nyanga pinching one, and a series of attacks deep in the Racing 22 – with the interval approaching – were foiled with all-action centre Sam Arnold held up close to the posts.
Machenaud’s metronome right boot extended the lead with a penalty just two minutes into the second half, and Munster’s misery continued when a Rhys Marshall try was ruled out after he had run into referee JP Doyle.
With injured opensides Chris Cloete and Tommy O’Donnell keenly missed, 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, as Johann van Graan’s men took advantage of Marc Andreu’s sin-binning for successive offsides.
JJ Hanrahan was wide of the target with the conversion and after fellow replacement Robin Copeland, who had the try-line in his sights, was pulled back for a forward pass from Zebo, Racing duly slowed the pace of the game again.
To their credit, 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.