In the end, there was simply too much firepower for Munster to cope with. They had battled hard for 70 minutes, taking a 22-20 lead into the endgame and keeping hopes of another European miracle alive.
Then Racing 92 blew them away, three tries in the final 10 minutes securing a quarter-final berth a week ahead of schedule and leaving Johann van Graan and his players with a whole host of ifs, buts and maybes.
Munster can have no complaints about this or any other of their results in this tremendously challenging Heineken Champions Cup campaign.
That they stayed alive this long in a pool containing perennial contenders Racing and defending champions Saracens is a testament to Munster’s spirit, tenacity and resilience.
Yet ultimately they did not have the quality to afford themselves the luxury of missing a last-minute drop goal at home to Racing in round two or to turn down the golden opportunity of a losing bonus point at Saracens.
Down and out in London and now Paris, with a mathematical miracle their only hope of sneaking into the knockout rounds along with maximum points at home to Ospreys next Sunday afternoon.
And yet there was much to be proud of in this performance in the French capital yesterday.
After a week of introspection following a poor defeat at Ulster, when van Graan’s side were bullied in Belfast, Munster needed to make a strong statement in Paris, not only to keep their Champions Cup hopes alive but to restore confidence in the group after a run of just two wins in seven games.
Thankfully for the large numbers of supporters inside La Défense Arena yesterday, Munster did just that winning collisions from the kick-off and taking a 9-0 lead as Racing 92’s discipline let them down and JJ Hanrahan, showing no discomfort from the hamstring injury he had suffered against Leinster on December 28 when kicking three penalties to put the home side on the back foot inside the first quarter.
Hanrahan’s third successful kick from three came on 17 minutes and it was for a well-deserved and hard-fought lead but all that work was undone cheaply when Jean Kleyn was guilty of a blatant block on the kick-chasing Iribaren.
The Racing scrum-half gratefully accepted the opportunity to get his side up and running from the resulting penalty on 19 minutes and the Parisians made the most of the change in momentum.
It was Iribaren who led the way, his instinctive play and excellent vision prompting a change of direction as Racing attacked the Munster line, the scrum-half sending a brilliantly executed reverse pass some 25 metres to a waiting Teddy Thomas, the unmarked ring wing running in for the opening try on 29 minutes.
Though Iribaren missed the wide-out conversion, he was given another opportunity three minutes later as Munster conceded a breakdown penalty just inside their half.
The kicker took advantage of the still conditions to launch the penalty from three paces over halfway to give Racing an 11-9 lead approaching half-time.
With their tails up, Racing went in search of more tries but their enthusiasm in attack bit them in the behind as captain Henry Chavancy saw his pass in the left corner intercepted by Andrew Conway deep inside the Munster 22.
The Ireland wing had no choice to go for broke from 80 metres out. He accelerated away from a bewildered Chavancy and by the time he reached halfway he was home-free, only the fast approaching Thomas coming off his other wing in a position to stop him.
Even he was not fast enough, Conway touching down at the other end as the pendulum swung back in Munster’s favour two minutes before half-time. Hanrahan’s conversion put the province into a 16-11 lead and it could not have been more timely heading into the interval.
Munster restarted with intent but conceded the first points of the second half to Iribaren’s boot, only for Hanrahan to restore his side’s five-point advantage on 50 minutes.
It was a helter-skelter opening to the final period but that seemed to suit the home side better, as Munster conceded two further penalties before the hour mark, falling behind 20-19 as Iribaren punished the visitors’ indiscipline.
Munster needed a spark and more importantly, another try, Chris Farrell held up over the line on 60 minutes a sign the Reds were not out of this contest.
Munster’s five-metre scrum was good and from it they forced a penalty, which Hanrahan slotted from in front of the posts to edge the Irishmen back in front at 22-20.
That was as good as it got, though. Though Munster sensed an opportunity to make further progress, it was not to come. It might have but for a curious decision by referee Wayne Barnes to call back play for a penalty after a deliberate Racing knock-on despite Billy Holland carrying he ball over the line.
After that though, Racing flicked a switch and on came the turbo boost.
They began to stress Munster’s defences and relentlessly so, eventually eking a penalty advantage when the red defensive line collectively strayed offside.
Barnes let play run and Finn Russell seized the opportunity, delivering a superb crossfield kick into the right corner, beyond Keith Earl’s and dropping on a centime for Thomas to pounce expertly, dotting down just inside the corner of the in-goal area.
Munster’s resistance was broken, Racing were at full tilt and it was an ugly finish for those in red. Vakatawa steamroller over, quickly followed by Juan Imhoff.
Iribaren’s replacement Maxime Machenaud nailed Machenaud conversions, Barnes called time and the stadium’s thumping music started up again as the pitch became a nightclub. The lights went out, quite literally, on Munster.
B Dulin; T Thomas, V Vakatawa, H Chavancy - captain, J Imhoff; F Russell (B Volavola, 77), T Iribaren (M Machenaud, 69); E Ben Arous (H Kolingar, 53), C Chat, B Tameifuna; B Palu, D Bird (B Chouzenoux, 64); W Lauret, B Le Roux (F Sanconnie, 72), A Claassen.
T Baubigny, C Gomes Sa, O Klemenczak.
M Haley (S Daly, 77); A Conway, C Farrell, R Scannell (D Goggin, 77), K Earls; JJ Hanrahan, C Murray (C Casey, 77); D Kilcoyne (J Loughman, 64), N Scannell (K O’Byrne, 77) , S Archer (J Ryan, 64); J Kleyn (A Botha, 69), B Holland; P O’Mahony, J O’Donoghue (C Cloete, 72), CJ Stander.
Wayne Barnes (England)