Former Munster man Mike Prendergast has offered his home province hope on two fronts for a European resurgence despite the heavy defeat his Racing 92 stars inflicted on them in Paris.
One-time Munster scrum-half Prendergast is in his first season as Racing’s backs coach having crossed Paris from Stade Francais last summer.
His new backline charges proved to be his old team’s undoing, with a three-try blitz in the final 10 minutes from Teddy Thomas, Virimi Vakatawa, and Juan Imhoff securing a 39-22 victory at La Défense Arena on Sunday evening.
It advances Racing to the Champions Cup quarter-finals and leaves Munster’s hopes of securing a best runner-up spot dangling by a thread heading into the final round of pool games.
Munster need to secure maximum points at home to winless Ospreys on Sunday and hope Racing can overturn defending champions Saracens at Allianz Park in north London at the same time to have any hope of reaching the last eight.
Yet Prendergast underlined just how important European success is to the Parisians after final defeats in 2016 and 2018 and promised Racing would go fully locked and loaded to Saracens in order to be sure of a home quarter-final, in part due to the influence of former coach Ronan O’Gara and current second row Donnacha Ryan on the club’s mindset.
“That’s one thing I noticed coming into Racing this year — there is that hunger for the Champions Cup which is great,” said Prendergast.
“It’s probably instilled from having somebody like Rog in before and Donnacha, that mentality is there and it was a big shock when I came in when we sat down at the start of the year and what our goals were and whatnot.
“Obviously Top 14 is huge and you could see it every week that the Champions Cup is in front of us, the body language by everyone, the intensity at training just lifts that extra notch, which traditionally over the years for French teams, hasn’t always been the way but thankfully it is here.
“The boys have been close before, came up a bit short, and they really want to go the next one, which is great for us as a coaching staff.”
The other crumb of comfort for Munster is that Prendergast believes Johann van Graan’s side are not too far from returning to the very elite of European club rugby, despite their current run of poor form. He did, however, suggest that Munster’s lack of ruthlessness in big matches is holding them back.
“I was saying to the players during the week ‘don’t focus too much on that, focus on their last performance against Saracens’, which they were very impressive again to 60-65 minutes not too unlike this, the game was there to potentially be won and I felt they should have beaten Saracens so you are looking at 30 minutes of rugby that can change it for you.
“Unfortunately at this level of rugby it’s ruthless enough and that’s what it came down but absolutely, they’re not that far away. They’re a very good side.”