herald

Wednesday 19 December 2018

Munster can be unhinged by Ryan and Nakarawa

Champions Cup: Racing v Munster (Bordeaux, Tom, 3.15, BTSport 3)

Simon Zebo. Photo: Sportsfile
Simon Zebo. Photo: Sportsfile

For all of the myriad of statistics that accompany Munster's march to a record-increasing 13th European Cup semi-final, there is one that stands out.

From the previous 12 appearances in the final four, they have emerged victorious on just four occasion, a 33 per cent return.

Therefore, they have to be lauded as the most consistent club in Europe for coming this far.

It is when they get here that they stumble more often than they hit full their stride.

They have two wins from four finals (50pc), losing out in one score games to Northampton Saints (9-8) in 2000 and Leicester Tigers (15-9).

Keith Earls
Keith Earls

Hurdle

This reflects how they cope better with the biggest day than the penultimate hurdle.

In the years ahead, few will remember who lost in the semi-final. Many will only recall those who made it to the final.

The well-touted decision to leave Simon Zebo on the bench, once Keith Earls recovered from injury has come to pass.

It is difficult to nail down the reasoning behind Zebo's demotion with the less experienced Alex Wootton retained on the left wing.

On paper, there is no doubt that Munster are almost as over-matched as they were in the quarter-final.

It has never been a problem for they are blessed with a depth of character and spirit that can make miracles happen.

Even so, Racing have borrowed Donnacha Ryan to partner up with Leone Nakarawa in the most well-balanced second row in the competition.

The Nenagh guardian of the set-piece will get on with the brutal business of the grunt work.

The gifted Fijiian will go about sucking in defenders to create space on the outside for Virimi Vakatawa, Teddy Thomas and Marc Andreu.

The predicted Bordeaux heat of 28 degrees will be more welcome to the legion of Munster supporters than to their players.

Their forward eight will be more about what Stephen Archer, Billy Holland and Jack O'Donoghue provide than it will be about how Jean Kleyn, Peter O'Mahony and CJ Stander lead the line of resistance.

Injuries to Chris Cloete and Tommy O'Donnell have put O'Donoghue in the enviable position to start; the unenviable position of playing out of position.

The long-limbed, rangy back rower will have to turn potential into performance at this level up against a potent back row in Yannick Nyanga, Bernard le Roux and Wenceslas Lauret.

Munster will want it to come down to the half-backs Conor Murray and Maxime Machenaud.

The Ireland international is rated the best in the world, at least on this side of the equator.

If he can work his magic out of a nuclear kicking game, near perfect passing and those timely charges when defences snooze, Munster might not lose.

Racing: L Dupichot; T Thomas, V Vakatawa, H Chavancy, M Andreu; P Lambie, M Machenaud; E Ben Arous, C Chat, C Gomes-Sa, D Ryan, L Nakarawa, W Lauret, B Le Roux, Y Nyanga. Replacements: D Szarzewski, V Kakovin, V Afatia, A Claassen, B Chouzenoux; T Iribaren, D Carter, J Rokocoko.

Munster: A Conway; K Earls, S Arnold, R Scannell, A Wootton; I Keatley, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, N Scannell, S Archer, J Kleyn, B Holland, P O'Mahony, J O'Donoghue, CJ Stander. Replacements: R Marshall, J Cronin, J Ryan, G Grobler, R Copeland; J Hart, JJ Hanrahan, S Zebo.

Verdict: Racing

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