Published: 16:33 | 22/4/18

Van Graan: Racing were "like a train on fire"

Munster head coach Johann van Graan described his side's Champions Cup semi-final conquerers Racing Metro as "like a train on fire" as the French side deservedly sent the Irish province packing in Europe.

The final score in the last-four battle at Stade Chaban-Delmas was 27-22 to Racing, but it didn't tell the full story, with the game virtually over as a contest by half-time, with the French side already leading 24-3 at the interval and 27-3 shortly after the break. 

Munster launched a heroic comeback effort to fall just short, but Racing were full value for the win, as they condemned Munster to a sixth semi-final defeat in succession, five of those coming in European competition.

"It's a tough one to take, we really believed we could pull this one off," Van Graan told BT Sport post-match. "All credit to Racing Metro – they started that game like a train on fire. We regrouped at half-time and had one or two opportunities just before half-time.

You can watch the Champions Cup final between Leinster and Racing Metro at San Mamés Stadium, Bilbao, on Saturday 12 May, live on the eir Sport pack.

"Unfortunately in game of this magnitude you need to take all of those opportunities. We're very glad we came to this stage [of the competition] but it's a tough one to take. 

"For Munster to get to the semi-final again - [is a] massive achievement. But we wanted to go one step better this year. Unfortunately it wasn't to be and we wish Leinster and Racing Metro all the best for the final.

"They [Racing] had one or two opportunities and they took them. Our defence has been incredible all year, but we need to produce on the day, and unfortunately we didn't have a good start.

"And we came up maybe one or two minutes short. But that's rugby, that’s life,  we'll take it on the chin and hopefully we'll be back next year."

The Parisians started with lightning pace as they used high-intensity phases to create a glimmer of space down the right flank, which their flying winger Teddy Thomas exploited with his typically devastating pace to dot down for an early five-pointer, with Alex Wootton left flatfooted and unable to do anything to prevent the score. Maxime Machenaud added the extras to complete Racing's perfect start.

Ian Keatley broke Munster's duck with points from the tee after 17 minutes of action in Bordeaux, capitalising on good territory for the Irish side over the previous ten minutes or so of the tie. 

However, Racing responded by once more cutting Munster open in midfield and releasing their speed merchant Thomas to glide through the red wall of defence like a knife through warm butter. Two more Machenaud points and the French side were firmly in control at the end of the first quarter.

A controlling positon on the scoreboard became an outright dominat one when Thomas waltzed past four static Munster defenders to storm into the in-goal area, before gifting Machenaud the ball to finish off the try, which the scrumhalf converted himself. The No 9 added three more to the tally with a penalty shortly afterwards, with Munster having been pinged at the breakdown.

Munster dominated the closing period before half-time, but failed to add to their tally, including turning their noses up at a kickable penalty and instead opting to kick for a lineout, which they subsequently lost.

Racing inflicted further damage with the first score after the interval, when Keith Earls was judged to have obstructed Marc Andreu, while chasing a kick through. Machenaud again slotted from the tee.

Munster responded by introducing Simon Zebo, Rhys Marshall, James Cronin and John Ryan, as they looked to score 25 points in the remaining 38 minutes. Marshall did cross for a try shortly afterwards, but the effort was ruled out after the hooker ran at the space around the referee – giving him an unfair attacking advantage by using the ref as a blocker. 

Further changes followed as Robin Copeland came in for Jack O’Donoghue at openside and JJ Hanrahan slotted in at outhalf in place of Keatley. But it was Racing who had the chance to score next, with Machenaud recording his first and only missed place kick of the game, as he rattled the crossbar. 

Racing made a change of their own, bringing in a familiar face in the form of Dan Carter for fullback Louis Dupichot. Carter went in at outhalf, with Patrick Lambie switching to 15.

Zebo gave Munster a lifeline on 63 minutes when he broke the tackle of Henry Chavancy in the five-metre area to force his way over, and in the process equallled Munster's European try-scoring record of 23, set by the late Anthony Foley. Although, Hanrahan missed the extras from the tee, leaving Munster with a 27-8 deficit still to claw back. 

Marshall did cross for a second Munster try, on 76 minutes, and Andrew Conway finished a grubber from Hanrahan in injury time, both of which were converted by Hanrahan, to give the scoreline a very narrow feel at 27-22, but in truth that brace of tries were merely consolation, as Munster went down to what was a far superior Racing outfit on the day.

You can watch the Champions Cup final between Leinster and Racing Metro at San Mamés Stadium, Bilbao, on Saturday 12 May, live on the eir Sport pack.

Image: Inpho/ James Crombie

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