JUST not good enough. That’s the hard and realistic truth about Munster rugby at this current time.
They may well be going through yet another transformation as they search desperately to regain their previous standing on a European stage, but for now, they are at best just an average side.
Mathematically, the former kings of Europe still have a very slim chance of reaching the last eight in this season’s Champions Cup.
Their fate is now out of their own hands though, and it would take a kaleidoscope of results to go their way next weekend.
Nobody was expecting Munster to lie down and have their bellies tickled in the French capital, and they certainly didn’t disappoint.
Yet in the end they just didn’t have that something special that they could call upon when they needed it most.
The best way to describe the difference between the two sides in this penultimate game in pool four of the Champions Cup is by comparing them to a VW Golf up against any make of Ferrari — Munster obviously being the German brand and Racing 92 the stylish and unpredictable Italian model.
With a Volkswagen you get a product that is solid, a bit dull, and infrequently changes its style. You rarely see a VW motor vehicle on the side of the road with its bonnet up. At the same time, they certainly won’t turn any heads.
The bosses of VW work under the philosophy that if it’s not broken there is no need to change it, and for far too long, Munster have put their faith in their old-style values.
Unfortunately, professional sport works in a different way and the day you stand still is the day you will fall flat on your face.
Ferrari, on the other hand, are constantly breaking the boundaries when it comes to performance and styling.
It may not be the most reliable brand and it is very expensive to maintain, but ask yourself this question and answer it honestly: Which vehicle would you choose to win a race?
Enzo Ferrari was a true visionary. Single-minded and of a single purpose, his vision was to create unique, high-performance motor cars, developed based on success and excellence.
Not only did he want his creations to out-perform all others, he needed them to look quick, even when they were parked up.
In order to win big trophies you need to have an X-factor and Munster just do not have this.
Apart from Keith Earls (now aged 32), who I would rate as one of Munster’s greatest players in the professional era, and possibly Andrew Conway, aged 28, Munster have no one else who could turn a game in a moment of brilliance.
Nor do they have the willingness or skill set to take risks and make them pay off.
Conor Murray did, once upon a time, have the kind of influence that could determine the outcome of a game.
That vanished nearly two years ago and now he resembles an average club player.
I really hope that the old adage of “form is temporary but class is permanent” rings true. However, for now, he is a far cry from the player he once was.
When Simon Zebo was ruled out of this game, the Racing 92 coaching ticket just went to their squad list and replaced like with like.
Yes, they may have more cash at their disposal, but we can only marvel at their brand of rugby and the type of player they recruit.
There was a moment of utter brilliance in the first half of this game that clearly depicted the gulf in class and skill between the sides in this tie.
The hosts’ scrum-half Teddy Iribaren produced a ludicrous 24-metre reverse looping pass over the top of the Munster defence to winger Teddy Thomas, who breezed over to score the first of Racing’s four tries.
It was the kind of pass that you just might attempt during a training session and the likelihood of it coming off would be miniscule.
For me it wasn’t the skill or accuracy that shone through, it was that he had the balls to take the risk and know he would not be chastised by his coach.
It was heart-warming to see that French rugby is still very much alive and kicking. At club level anyway.
Centres Virimi Vakatawa and Henry Chavancy also played with this kind of abandon and their ability to keep the ball alive left Munster defenders second-guessing what they were going to do every time.
The Munster defensive effort was commendable for three quarters of the game, but as soon as the French started off-loading their bench, the brave first-up tackles turned into an exercise in grasping hopes amid despair, and the Racing juggernaut we all feared was starting to fire on all cylinders.
Apart from Dave Kilcoyne, who ran himself into the ground, there was no other forward that took the game to the French and won the gain line battle. CJ Stander was completely nullified because he is so predictable. Peter O’Mahony tried hard but lacked the power of the French, and Jean Kleyn resembled a flimsy tree in a gale -force wind, unceremoniously uprooted every time he carried.
When you consider that Kleyn is 26 years old and he was replaced ahead of Billy Holland, 34, you must start to ask questions about his presence in the squad.
With only three wins from Munster’s last eight outings I really don’t know where they go from here.
I guess a bonus-point win next week against the Ospreys will help get the wheel turning once more, but trust me, they are at least six or seven new signings away from being able to compete in Europe.
Nothing other then winning the Guinness Pro14 title will save Munster’s season now and the only way that will happen is if Leinster withdraw.
It will be interesting to see who Johann van Graan offers up this season to take the blame for his failings.
We live in hope because that’s really all there is left.