Finn Russell Munster fall just short of the full Houdini as Racing take share of the spoils

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Munster 21 Racing 92 21

As ever with Munster, this was high drama, although as ever with draws, neither side will feel entirely satisfied with a share of the spoils, which if anything will probably revive Saracens’ interest in the tournament.

Munster, ultimately, will rue a missed drop goal from 20 metres out in front of the posts by the otherwise magnificent JJ Hanrahan to complete one of their more remarkable acts of escapology.

Yet he had landed a superb touchline conversion moments earlier to draw Munster level, and this after Racing had dominated much of the second half and several times came within a whisker of pulling two scores clear.

Munster had won 30 of 31 home games against Top 14 opposition, but rarely has a French side proved so consistently dangerous as this Racing side, in what was a riotously entertaining affair against a Munster side themselves in the throes of re-inventing themselves into a more varied attacking outfit.

To be honest, it’s a better result for Racing, and they deserved it.

With the always inventive Finn Russell prepared to take the ball to the line, draw defenders and delve into his sizeable box of tricks, and with kindred spirit Simon Zebo recalled, the width, tempo and variety of Racing’s running game was a constant threat.

However, Stephen Larkham’s influence is already becoming apparent, with Hanrahan and Mike Haley looking like players reborn. Haley is now a kindred spirit of Zebo’s too, and with both fullbacks eager to counter, this was a hugely entertaining contest on a dry and perfect night.

There was plenty of high-wire rugby. Munster are now much more inclined to take the ball to the gain line and offload or make tip-on passes, while Racing pushed up quickly in regularly threatening to pick off intercepts.

Finn Russell Munster’s Andrew Conway scores a try during the Heineken Champions Cup game against Racing 92 at Thomond park. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
Munster’s Andrew Conway scores a try during the Heineken Champions Cup game against Racing 92 at Thomond park. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

A father for a third time earlier in the week, Zebo was full of running, countering infield to set up attacking platforms on both sides of the pitch, and also accelerating into contact in drawing in tackles, such was Munster’s awareness of his constant offloading throat.

Another favourite returning son, Donnacha Ryan, was orchestrator in chief when spoiling Munster’s lineout and maul.

Zebo was given the honour of leading the team out, looking up to the heavens, and Ryan had his picture taken with his daughter.

Racing had suffered a blow in the warm-up when their scrumhalf Maxime Machenaud pulled up, and he was replaced by another of those goal-kicking scrumhalves who seem to fall off trees in France, the experienced understudy Teddy Iribaren.

The 21-year-old halfback Antoine Gibert was called into the bench.

Zebo was the fourth man to touch the ball, countering laterally into midfield after Antonie Claassen gathered Rory Scannell’s kick and clattering into Hanrahan’s tackle to set one of the night’s recurring themes.

The night’s first rendition for Stand Up And Fight was prompted by Tadhg Beirne and Jean Kleyn holding up Cedric Gomes Sa for a turnover, before Racing’s counter-rucking forced a turnover. The Parisians’ line speed in defence forced Conor Murray to box kick, where his mate Zebo caught and marked safely.

Quick hands by Hanrahan and Chris Farrell led to a good carry by Haley, and after Claassen was pinged for not rolling, Hanrahan opened the scoring with a fine 42-metre penalty.

Finn Russell Munster’s Andrew Conway competes for the ball with Racing 92’s Simon Zebo of Racing 92 during the Heineken Champions Cup game at Thomond park. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
Munster’s Andrew Conway competes for the ball with Racing 92’s Simon Zebo of Racing 92 during the Heineken Champions Cup game at Thomon

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