Munster 21 Racing 92 21
Sean McMahon reporting from Thomond Park
Munster were staring down the barrel of a certain defeat at the end of this game until moments later, in a bizarre twist to the game, they looked like they were going to escape with a vital victory.
They finished somewhere in the middle as a last-gasp JJ Hanrahan drop-goal attempt, which would have won the game for the men in red, drifted agonisingly wide.
But this was a game Munster almost certainly would have lost if they did not produce one final push towards the end of the game which saw Andrew Conway cross in the corner. Hanrahan’s sublime touchline conversion and kicking from the tee all night levelled the game after the southern province were shocked due to tries from Finn Russell, Teddy Thomas and Juan Imhoff.
Racing 92 came to Limerick on Saturday determined to spoil Munster’s long-running undefeated streak at Thomond Park and when the writing was on the wall in the first half after two superb individual tries from Finn Russell and Teddy Thomas, Keith Earls crossed for the southern province’s first try just before halftime to provide a glimmer of hope.
Imhoff’s try in the second half looked like it was curtains for Munster, only for Conway’s effort with five minutes remaining in the match salvaging a draw for Johann van Graan’s side.
On his return to Thomond Park, Simon Zebo’s first involvement was to carry directly into CJ Stander, a big hit which stopped the flying fullback in his tracks as the bumper Thomond Park crowd roared in approval.
The opening minutes of the match saw Racing threatening with ball in hand but some good hold up work from Jean Kleyn and Tadhg Beirne thwarted Eddy Ben Arous.
Johann van Graan’s side registered the first points of the match when Antoine Claassen held onto Conor Murray off the ball as he was trying to release the pill from a ruck. JJ Hanrahan put the ball on the tee and sent it between the posts to give his side an early 3-0 lead.
The game was only 10 minutes old when it descended into some hectic and open play. First, Chris Farrell made a break deep into the Racing half but the French side managed to turn it over. Munster looked to attack from deep once again but Peter O’Mahony had a pass intercepted by Claassen before the number eight’s offload was almost picked off by Keith Earls. The Limerick man knocked the ball on when attempting to collect which gave the Parisian side a scrum just outside the Munster 22.
Soon after, Finn Russell produced a bit of magic for Racing’s opening try by grubber kicking through the legs of Hanrahan before collecting the ball and dotting down.
Munster almost responded with a try when Hanrahan made an excellent break in midfield but the move broke down as Jack O’Donoghue threw a poor pass to Rory Scannell and the centre could only knock-on.
Munster did manage to get three points back from the boot of Hanrahan after the Parisian side were penalised at the scrum but it didn’t take long for the visitors to extend their lead further when Teddy Thomas collected his own chip near the sideline to canter over and touch down under the posts.
Munster again piled on the pressure after another setback and they almost registered a try but Hanrahan knocked on when attempting to ground the ball after a superb last-ditch tackle from Zebo.
Zebo couldn’t stop Munster on their next effort, however, as Earls produced enough pace on the outside to get past his former teammate and touch down in the corner.
Hanrahan’s conversion was just wide of the posts as Munster went into the halftime break three points down.
Munster levelled the game at the beginning of the second half with a penalty from Hanrahan but Racing soon hit back with yet another try from the magician Russell.
The Scotland out-half dummied in midfield which allowed him to break through the Munster rearguard before timing a pass to perfection to the supporting Juan Imhoff who scored under the posts.
Munster were now seven points down and staring down the barrel of a rare Thomond Park defeat but with just over 10 minutes to go, they finally found some territory and with a penalty advantage, Hanrahan sent a sublime skip pass to Conway who dotted down in the corner.
The Kerry native then nailed the touchline conversion to level the game and he could have won the match with just seconds remaining only for his drop-goal attempt to drift agonisingly wide.
Munster: Mike Haley; Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Rory Scannell, Keith Earls; JJ Hanrahan, Conor Murray; Jeremy Loughman, Niall Scannell, John Ryan; Jean Kleyn, Tadhg Beirne; Peter O’Mahony (C), Jack O’Donoghue, CJ Stander.
Replacements: Kevin O’Byrne, James Cronin, Stephen Archer, Billy Holland, Fineen Wycherley, Alby Mathewson, Dan Goggin, Arno Botha.
Racing 92: Simon Zebo, Teddy Thomas, Virimi Vakatawa, Henry Chavancy (captain), Juan Imhoff, Finn Russell, Teddy Iribaren, Eddy Ben Arous, Camille Chat, Cedate Gomes Sa, Donnacha Ryan, Dominic Bird, Wenceslas Lauret, Boris Palu, Antoine Claassen
Replacements: Teddy Baubigny, Hassane Kolingar, Ali Oz, Fabien Sanconnie, Yoan Tanga Mangene, Teddy Iribaren, Ben Volavola, Brice Dulin