More than last year's semi-final, losing to Racing is a bitter pill for Munster fans to swallow

More than last year's semi-final, losing to Racing is a bitter pill for Munster fans to swallow
Marc Andreu of Racing 92 and Keith Earls of Munster contest a high ball. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

SPORTING narratives can be misleading. 

Not every knockback gets a fairytale redemption arc, not every journey ends in glory, not every ending is a happy one. That’s the wheel - sometimes you're under it and sometimes you’re rolling high but you have to know that it’s always turning.

On Sunday, the wheel turned on Munster’s European journey for 2017-2018 and saw the path to an All-Ireland final ended with a comprehensive five-point defeat to Racing 92 in the stifling heat of Bordeaux. 

A comprehensive five-point defeat doesn’t sound right, does it? The scoreboard said 27-22 but the scoreboard doesn’t tell you the story of the game. 

When this one was being decided - inside the first 30 minutes - Munster just weren’t accurate enough. This isn’t just about missed tackles (even though there were a few), this is about Munster failing to take the plethora of chances put in front of them and then eating three sucker punches in a row.

Last year against Saracens, Munster couldn’t really say that they left the game behind them. Saracens did a lot of defending, sure, but they always had an air of comfort about their work that Munster couldn’t ever really shake. 

This was not the case here. 

Munster had enough ball and enough chances to win this game three times over, regardless of the tries conceded. 

In a way, Racing’s three tries reminded me of three vicious counter punches. You couldn’t say that they were “against the run of play”, far from it, but they illustrated some remarkable efficiency with possession that Munster just couldn’t match. 

Would it surprise you to learn that Racing had 31% possession in this game? 

Or that they had 23% territory? Or that they missed more tackles than Munster did? 

Andrew Conway of Munster is tackled by Eddy Ben Arous, left, and Teddy Thomas of Racing 92. Picture: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Andrew Conway of Munster is tackled by Eddy Ben Arous, left, and Teddy Thomas of Racing 92. Picture: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Or that they carried the ball 93 times fewer than Munster? Or that Munster beat more defenders and made more offloads than Racing did? 

I was, and I watched the game same as you did.

This wasn’t a game that Munster hit that figurative wall - although Racing’s defence resembled one at times - this was a game where, collectively, the southern province made more offensive errors than they could have made in their worst nightmares pre-game.

The first Racing try was a poor one to concede in that Munster never managed to get a stop on Racing’s possession either through dominant tackling or breakdown work and Racing found the outside edge with enough angles and options to overrun in the wider channels. 

Then they just fell off. They expended their attacking energy with massive multiphase carries and then dropped back into defensive positioning. 

Munster began to rack up possession in those periods but time and again they failed to crank the pressure in ways that would really hurt Racing. That was down to a few things; Racing’s excellent chop tackling, Munster’s lack of attacking composure and Racing’s ability to swing into Munster’s ruck support lines to help their jackals compete on the floor. 

The latter really killed a lot of Munster’s phase work and it really highlighted an inability to plot phases together in a coherent way. Munster had all the ball but couldn’t use it. 

Racing scored three tries from four sequences of possession in the first half. Inefficiency and a lack of composure versus an ultra accurate use of possession and excellent decision making - that’s the story of how Munster lost this game. 

When Munster got turned off a five-metre scrum right before halftime, you got a real sense that the jig was up. 

That moment - again, built off Racing’s ability to disrupt our clean out lanes post tackle - seemed decisive and it was the last in a succession of winning moments for the Parisiens. 

Where Racing were incisive, Munster were blunt. They scored tries with massive bursts of forward energy like relentless eight-man mauling and pods of three heavier carriers. They gambled with their energy but it paid off exactly as they would have planned.

As for Munster, there’s nothing but disappointment. We can talk about “lessons being learned” but the only real lesson from this game is that they have to be better. They have to handle the pressure better, they have to take their chances better, and they have to manage their energy and tactical use of possession in games of this magnitude. 

Getting comprehensively beaten like Saracens last season is easy to take in a way - Munster were never really in that game with any vigour. This game will be all the harder to stomach because of the scores they conceded and, more importantly, the scores they left behind when it counted.

That Munster came back to add respectability shows well for their grit but the tries were too hard to come by and the lead they allowed to build too insurmountable.

Munster's Simon Zebo throws his boots to the fans after the loss on Sunday. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Munster's Simon Zebo throws his boots to the fans after the loss on Sunday. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

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