THE bigger they come the harder they fall. Or so they say!
As the consequences from Saracens’ financial illegalities continue to make headlines, Munster welcome another cash-rich super power to Thomond park tomorrow.
Paris-based Racing 92 represent the kind of team that Munster absolutely love playing against, especially so in Limerick.
With a staggering operating budget of in or around €25m, you could assume Munster would have very little hope of winning.
With a squad of 24 fully capped internationals from seven countries and another busload of quality U20 World Cup winners to choose from, Racing 92 have all the ingredients any coach would require to make a world-class side.
So, why haven’t they dominated this competition?
For me, they lack that little bit of soul that all great clubs have and need when their backs are firmly rammed against the wall.
They don’t really have a history. Even though they’ve reached two finals in recent times, I have never witnessed them fulfil their true potential and I wonder would they be prepared to die for the cause.
Maybe I’ll be proved wrong and with players like our own Donnacha Ryan and Simon Zebo driving them on, they will soon hold aloft the European Cup.
Tomorrow will be a great indicator. Though if you look at their domestic Top 14 league table which reads, played nine, lost five and drew one it doesn’t exactly fill you with confidence.
If allowed to play, they have the capabilities to rip any side apart, and when they play at home in their somewhat bizarre stadium, the Paris La Défense Arena, they are virtually unbeatable.
Last Sunday, the day after Munster impressively took all the points out of the Liberty Stadium in Swansea, Racing played their first game against a second-string Saracens side that fell off tackles and allowed them to win all the gain line battles.
Saracens sent over a side that never had any hope of realistically challenging the Parisian Galacticos.
There were moments in that game where Saracens looked as if they had never played together before and when you have individuals in your side with the striking power of New Zealand born Virimi Vakatawa, French internationals Henry Chavancy and Teddy Thomas, and Scotland’s Finn Russell pulling the strings in the number 10 jersey, the points were never going anywhere except into the home dressing room.
It is very hard to tell how this pool is going to pan out because of the ever-unfolding Saracens debacle.
For Munster and the Thomond Park faithful, it will be their first opportunity to truly welcome the newly-formed coaching ticket to the hallowed theatre and while Johann van Graan will know exactly what to expect, it will be a first European home tie for newbies Stephen Larkham and Graham Rowntree.
Last week we were given some small indications that Munster were changing how they go about their business of breaking down defences. Their forwards were actually passing the ball and their wingers were popping up in places that created realistic try-scoring opportunities. They are still very unadventurous when the try line is within sniffing distance, but at least they are trying something new.
The uncertainty around the injuries to Joey Carbery and JJ Hanrahan is not helping Larkham in establishing a particular kind of game plan. It is vital he gets these players back to full health sooner rather than later because in order to build momentum and create a winning culture, it is imperative you have a number 10 who is able to guide his players to areas of opportunity.
Tyler Bleyendaal is a nice little player and has done well, but I just hope that Carbery turns out to be the player that everyone expects him to be.
Without a quality fly-half, all you truly have is seven backs and eight forwards who work as separate entities and in the modern game, you need a link that is not only a strong decision-maker but also someone who is demanding and ruthless.
The very warm welcome that I am sure the Munster supporters will give the dazzling Zebo and industrious Ryan must not be replicated on the pitch and for that 80 minutes when the game is on, Munster will need to curtail the amount of ball Zebo gets to run with and dampen down Ryan from inspiring his fellow forwards.
After the game, the Munster players can have a few pints and reminisce about days gone by with their former buddies, but before that, the gloves must remain off.
These two players should never have been allowed to leave the province in the first place, though it is fully understandable as to why they departed.
Both should have been first choice inclusions on the World Cup squad, but stupid policies put in place by irrational blazers in Dublin prohibited Ireland fielding their strongest team and the consequences are there now for all to lament over.
A strong start in this game is what Munster must strive for and if everything goes to plan, there might just be the opportunity to bag another four-try bonus point.
I really hope that with the arrival of the new coaches that Munster continue to build momentum and continue to change how they go about their business. I have no issues with players making mistakes once they are looking to improve, but please, please don’t revert to hitting one-out ball carriers and kicking the ball in the air in an attempt to win games.
We all know Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Munster to win.