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Finn Russell Munster 21 Racing 92 21
After the half-hearted performance by Clermont in Belfast on Friday night, this was a contest welcomed as much by the EPCR as by fans of French rugby. Yes, the first was played in the sort of weather that seems inseparable from games at that time in that part of the world; the second in perfect conditions.
However, without the preparedness to discommode yourself in search of the right result you have nothing. And Clermont had nothing. Racing, on the other hand, came to play and to compete. Against a side still very much in touch with the wonders of the Heineken Cup, that set the stage.
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So from the moment referee Matt Carley drew back the curtain we knew we were in for circa 90 minutes of compelling football. By the time the curtain came down honours were even. You would have got long odds on that in the third quarter after Juan Imhoff’s try had put Racing 21-14 ahead on 49 minutes. But Munster battled back to be within a kick of winning it: a drop goal attempt by JJ Hanrahan that skewed off his boot and wide.
That moment will have kept him awake last night, but hopefully not for too long. He had converted from the right touchline to tie the game up a couple of minutes earlier. Overall Hanrahan had a fine game. And Munster, now trailing Racing at the top of Pool 4 on points difference, should be happy enough with their lot, for in the period after Imhoff got over after a lovely break by Finn Russell, the away side got casual about putting away their chances. And they had a few.
You could feel the unease in the home crowd, who had created a throbbing atmosphere reminiscent of the great European nights here.
Their team were stuck on the edge of their own 22, seemingly incapable of shifting the battleground as Racing put the ball in behind them. They had watched Teddy Iribaren, a replacement in the warm-up for Maxime Machenaud, push a penalty wide; on top of two tries butchered, and a punt to the corner that slid into in-goal, it was all adding up. Against Munster that kind of stuff is almost guaranteed to come back and haunt you.
“I think that’s what Munster is about,” their coach Johann van Graan said afterwards. “A lot of teams in Europe would have given up at that stage and we just kept fighting. For all 23 involved they just don’t know how to give up even though the odds are against you, you just keep fighting. Players gave it their all and I thought the crowd played a massive part. That’s just the way rugby goes: you’ve just got to keep fighting.”
Sure enough, when the siege was lif
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