Racing 92’s head coach Laurent Travers is readying his side for a proxy European Cup knockout dogfight this weekend describing tomorrow’s clash as a “last-16 match”.
And he sounded a warning: “If [Munster] lose on Sunday, they’ll be virtually eliminated. They are a team with their backs against the wall, but they’re used to playing this kind of match. Their side is full of internationals. They’re going to want to score points for the tournament.”
He had taken a pop at the PRO14, saying Munster were already effectively assured of a place at European rugby’s top table next season.
“[Munster] haven’t got much to fight for and they prepare enormously for the Champions Cup,” he said earlier this week, suggesting that Munster’s 10 changes for the match against Ulster at the Kingspan Stadium allowed them to rest key players for this weekend’s match.
Racing start as favourites, having won three of their four Champions Cup ties — and holding Munster to a thrilling draw at Thomond Park in November. But Travers is taking no chances with qualification. In a side showing five changes from last week’s Top 14 win over Clermont, he has selected all the Racing players who have been called up to France coach Fabien Galthie’s Six Nations squad.
Forgotten France full-back Brice Dulin, meanwhile, starts in place of Simon Zebo, who suffered an ankle injury eight minutes into last weekend’s Top 14 victory over Clermont.
The Irishman is expected to be out for “at least a month”.
The players, too, are ready for a no-quarter encounter. Hooker Chat predicted it will be “a game of very high level”, while — after being rested last weekend — centre Henry Chavancy returns as captain for a match he described as “the first cut-off game of our season”.
A win would also mean Racing could relax ahead of their final pool match at Saracens. If the Premiership side pick up a bonus-point win at Ospreys today, and Racing lose, then the final round of matches could turn into a three-way battle for qualification — with home advantage in favour of Munster and Saracens.
“We’ve worked hard all week to prepare for this game,” Chavancy said. “One of the club’s goals was to reach the quarter-finals of the European Cup. This weekend, we can get the points we need to do that. But if we lose, we will make things complicated for ourselves with a final away game. We would put a lot of pressure on ourselves. We’d like to avoid doing that.”