If Tadhg Beirne is any guide, there is no danger of Munster failing to pay full attention to the variety of threats Racing 92 will bring to Thomond Park tomorrow evening, not least from the man he succeeded in the province’s second row.
When Beirne arrived in Limerick from Scarlets in the summer of 2018, he was filling the void left by Donnacha Ryan, who 12 months earlier had departed for France and a fresh adventure with Racing’s galacticos in Paris.
Now the two locks could come face-to-face as the two sides meet in Heineken Champions Cup Pool 4, as Ryan returns to his old stomping ground for the first time since leaving his native province.
The pair are Ireland internationals past and present, their Test careers having not overlapped with Ryan’s 47-cap stint in the national team ending when he decided to sign for Racing, while Beirne earned his first cap in Australia in June 2018 having returned to Ireland from the Scarlets.
Yet despite not knowing one another, Beirne is very familiar with Ryan’s strengths and the dangers he poses to Munster tomorrow.
“His work ethic and his knowledge around lineout and all that kinda stuff is second to none and he’s definitely probably changed that for Racing and put his mark on it, so credit to him and I’m sure he’ll still remember a lot about the Munster lineout so it’s going to be important to kind of manipulate it a little bit against them,” Beirne said.
Racing dominated the set-piece against pool rivals Saracens in a 30-10 bonus-point win over the defending champions at La Défense Arena last Sunday, reducing the understrength English side to a measly 55% lineout completion rate that has not gone unnoticed in Munster, with Johann van Graan’s side dispatching Ospreys 32-13 in Swansea 24 hours earlier.
“I think their lineout defence is one of the most impressive I’ve seen in a long time,” Beirne said of Racing.
“They seem to disrupt a lot of lineouts, not just in the Champions Cup but also in the Top 14 so that’s definitely one of their strongest points and an area that we will definitely have a massive focus on.
“You look at Racing’s record in Europe the last few years — two finals in four years? So they seem to turn it on for sure when they come to Europe. It’s probably something they definitely strive for, to win Europe, so they’ll have a massive focus on this and it’s definitely going to be a step up.
“When we were doing our reviews they were very good over the ball, across the board and they’re just a physical side as well. It’s certainly going to be a battle and it could end up being a forward battle too, so it’s a big challenge but it’s a very exciting one.”
Beirne is no different from his fellow Ireland internationals who came home disappointed from the World Cup in Japan but have quickly refocused to put their best foot forward in search of European glory.
"You might not get another opportunity out there but you come into this environment and it just kind of lifts you because everyone is in such good form and the lads have been performing well and things are certainly on the rise here and it’s a pretty exciting time for Munster and that probably lifts everyone’s spirits for sure.”
Despite Ireland’s frustrations in Japan, Beirne appreciated his World Cup debut and said he “learned a lot over the whole experience” without, he felt, having shone in terms of performances, having featured in all five games, two of them starts against Russia and Samoa. It has left the 27-year-old with plenty of motivation to hit the ground running with Munster in Europe.
“Champions Cup is the highest, the biggest stage for club rugby so it’s massively exciting for Munster and it’s massively exciting to be part of that so there’s no point in dwelling on the past, being in Japan and stuff because once you come in here your only focus is Munster and I think we started off really well last week getting the bonus point and we’ll definitely look to continue that this Saturday.”