Munster faced a monumental challenge today. Racing are flying high, second in the Top 14 and playing some outstanding rugby as of late. They came into the game after hammering Clermont 58-6 and haven't lost since December 3.
The game had the added side plot of Simon Zebo playing against his future club and Donnacha Ryan playing against his former. The final score was a 34-30 loss but Munster can be proud of several elements of their performance. Their response after an initial blitz was fantastic. The set piece was good and some of the offensive rugby they played was breathtaking. However, even with Van Graan's assurances during the week, discipline is an issue and ultimately proved the difference. The referee made his interpretation clear and yet by the 79 minute Munster still did not seem to get it.
15. Simon Zebo - 8
All eyes were on the Munster full-back with the clock ticking on his departure. Shipped some heavy hits early on yet bounced back off the artificial surface every time. Pulled off a sensational one-handed flick to almost free Conway and was a constant threat with ball in hand.
14. Andrew Conway - 6
Will be disappointed with his tally of missed tackles that proved costly. Wasn't his normal self with ball in hand, partly due to lack of opportunities. By no means was poor overall and competed well in the air but his defensive lapses proved costly.
13. Chris Farrell - 7
It has been a while since Munster had a ball-carrier like Chris Farrell in their backline. Farrell refuses to accept the gain line and seems to thrive after initial contact. Yet on the other side of his game, needs to do more. A grand total of 43 metres made today.
12. Rory Scannell - 7
Racing targetted his channel, and eventually, it showed. Made some big tackles but missed the most of any Munster back.
11. Keith Earls - 9
Any international standard winger is expected to be able to side-step, but very few have the capability to step off either foot. With ball in hand Earls was deadly today. Racing had no answer to his pace and running lines and at times the entire Munster attack relied on Earls getting the ball.
10. Ian Keatley - 6
Early in the game Keatley drove a grubber kick in behind the Racing back three but misjudged how the ball would run on the surface and it went dead. Five minutes later, he used the surface to get every inch out of a kick and pin Racing back deep in their half. Keatley's temperament is not the only aspect to improve recently, his in-game thinking has developed to expert levels. Did not take all kicks from tee but rather shared duty with Murray. Made some big mistakes but balanced it with some big kicks too.
9. Conor Murray - 8
With the game in the balance, Munster won a penalty inside their own half to the left of the posts. The Garryowen man pulled his socks up and landed a clutch penalty to give Munster a 30-28 lead. Could prove to be yet another weapon in his already impressive arsenal.
1. Dave Kilcoyne - 7
Four carries, nine big tackles and none missed. Solid as a rock.
2. Rhys Marshall - 6
Missed his cue with a line-out that cost Munster some crucial momentum early in the first half. However responded well and hit every other throw. The influence of Jerry Flannery is evident in Marshall and O'Bryne's throwing ability.
3. Stephen Archer - 8
Scrum was outstanding but beyond that Archer's all-round game was phenomenal in doing the 'dirty' work. Absurdity, tied with the most tackles for Munster with a monstrous 13.
4. Jean Kleyn - 7
Assumed a leadership mantle early in the game and recognised the resurgence needed to start in the engine room. After CJ Stander, the most carries of any Munster forward.
5. Billy Holland - 7
The evergreen man. Munster fans will be delighted with the news last week that he had signed a contract extension. Only getting better with age.
6. Peter O’Mahony (captain) - 6
Wasn't as influential as usual, but that's more an indicator of the lofty standards he sets for himself. Made a massive steal in the first half. A key point though, in the face of a clearly particular ref O'Mahony did not learn from his team-mates mistakes and coughed up two penalties. Replaced by Jack O'Donoghue early in the second half.
7. Chris Cloete - 8
Crucial to stemming the early Racing dominance when he infuriated Racing at the breakdown with a steal and a penalty in quick succession.
8. CJ Stander - 7
Heroic tackle and carry count as per usual. Again an offender at the breakdown, tied with the most penalties conceded by any Munster player.
Replacements - 6
Jack O'Donoghue was impressive but beyond that bench did not have the desired impact in the closing minutes. Both replacement props were caught badly at the late score which coughed up a crucial penalty.
The result was by no means a disaster for Munster. The issues are very clear and easily fixable and their destiny is still very much in their own hands. Perhaps the most disappointing aspect will be the fact this was a game there for the taking and it slipped through their fingers, with the additional kick-in-the-teeth that it was thanks to a massive Donnacha Ryan play.