Former All Black Chris Masoe has praised Donnacha Ryan’s contribution to Racing 92’s charge to the Champions Cup final, crediting the Munster man’s positivity with lifting the squad in his debut season.
Ryan, 34, spent a long time in the Munster dressing room at Stade Chaban-Delmas, sharing a beer with his former team-mates following Racing’s 27-22 victory in Bordeaux, but it was the other changing room that is benefitting from the lock’s presence as they celebrate progress to a second European decider in three seasons and a showdown with Leinster in Bilbao on May 12.
Masoe, a two-time European champion with Toulon and now Racing’s skills and defence coach, saw his charges storm into a 21-3 lead after just 22 minutes against Munster on Sunday and then hold off a second-half fightback, with Ryan putting in 19 tackles against the side he was a part of for 13 seasons.
“You guys know him pretty well, he has a lot of experience. He knows the competition really well,” Masoe said of Ryan.
“Munster has always dominated the Champions Cup and the Heineken Cup before it, but to have a guy like him in the team is an amazing lift for the boys.
“The boys love him. It’s something you can’t teach someone but he’s great for the team.
“It’s his attitude, he’s a positive guy. He’s bringing the energy. The thing for me is his mindset because sometimes the French way of doing things... but to have that balance and for him to bring that is pretty good for the team.
“It rubs off on other players. We do things pretty similar in New Zealand to Ireland, leave it to the players to put a bit of input into it because at the end of the day they’re the ones on the field and we just give them a bit of direction.”
Masoe said Racing’s breathtaking start, when wing Teddy Thomas ran in two tries and served up another for Maxime Machenaud, who converted all three, had been a testimony to the players’ preparations.
“We were talking about having to get a good start after starting off slowly in the last couple of weeks but really pleased for the boys. We knew it would be a tough one and the conditions were going to be hot, so pretty happy.
“The whole week I was speaking to the boys, I’ve been here a couple of times and games like this are all about the start. It’s all about clarity and knowing your roles and things like that because there’s no other chance after this.
“So this last week has been all about detail. We wanted to have a good start and we did that.
“We came into this game knowing Munster have a big forward pack and we did a lot of defence work last week and it paid off. Unfortunately, the gas ran out for the last few minutes but hats off to the boys, they defended their line pretty well in the first 40 minutes.”
Masoe, like joint head coaches Laurent Labit and Laurent Travers, recognised that strong defence will be a minimum requirement if they are going to contain a Leinster side that dismantled a fancied Scarlets team in last Saturday’s first semi-final in Dublin.
“I’m sure they’ll be everyone’s pick as favourite. It’s good to be underdog but we’ve got to do a lot of analysis in the next three weeks and we’ve got Top14 back down here again next week. But it’s a good opportunity for us.
“We’ve got to approach it differently again, defensively. You can see they’ve been playing well. I’ve played against that team and it’s all about their momentum and we’re going to have to work hard to stop their momentum and make sure it goes in our favour.”
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