Munster will go into Champions Cup semi-final weekend as the only one of Europe’s last four with a win behind them after their opponents this Saturday – Racing 92 – were defeated by Toulouse.
Johann van Graan’s men will travel to Bordeaux to face Racing in their bid to reach next month’s Bilbao final and if Munster’s South African coach had watched proceedings at the Stade Ernest-Wallon, he will have found plenty to ponder as Toulouse sealed a convincing success over France’s capital club.
Racing rested key men – as did Leinster and Scarlets – and ended up with a similar result to the two teams who will compete the other semi-final.
Based on this evidence, Munster should be confident of downing a Racing side who are still confident of meeting either Leinster or the Scarlets in the final in Spain due to their strength-in-depth.
“Munster are cut out for European competition,” said Racing backs coach Laurent Labit. “The sequence of matches is complicated, but this run of fixtures happened to us two years ago and we have managed the squad to make sure it’s very much about strategy and recovery.
“Munster is a team we know well, we have played them the last two seasons and we have a former Munster player here with us (Donnacha Ryan).
“We have a squad that can challenge in two competitions, but we haven’t won anything yet and it’s titles we’re after.”
Racing had won 13 of their last 15 games before facing Toulouse, but made 12 changes for the trip to Toulouse and paid the price as even the great Dan Carter couldn’t stop them from suffering a loss.
The former New Zealand star’s team made a series of basic mistakes and were in reverse gear up front as Toulouse scored first-half tries through Sebastian Bezy, Zack Holmes and Maxime Medard.
Racing weren’t helped by a yellow card for centre Albert Vulivuli for a deliberate forearm, but Toulouse were dominant as full-back Thomas Ramos ended the game with 22 points.
Munster will face an entirely different Racing side in Europe to the one which took on Toulouse and the Parisians’ strength-in-depth is shown by the fact Carter is likely to be among the replacements.
And even though Racing grabbed second-half tries through Dimitri Szarzewski, Juan Imhoff and Joe Rokocoko, they will have to be much better to beat Munster.
Gael Fickou and Ramos also crossed for Toulouse before the final whistle as Racing’s late comeback at least gave them some momentum before their crunch European showdown.
Labit’s forward compatriot Laurent Travers added: “We prepared for a big performance against Toulouse, but it did not happen.
“The sequence of matches has allowed everyone to play and we always said it would take a team effort this season. Now it’s up to us to prove it against Munster.
“It’s not the 23 who make the final that win the titles, it’s the whole group.”
Carter, who is set to lose his starting out-half spot with Racing to Pat Lambie, said: “We’re going to be up against a class side in Munster and it’s going to be a huge challenge.
“We are really proud of the team to reach the semi-finals of this competition. This team has historically not done that well in Europe in the past so we’re really looking forward to the semi-final.
“A big part of the reason I came to play in France was because I think we can go all the way.
“The team got close a few years ago, but we’re the only French team in the last four and it’s really important we get through.”
T Ramos (JM Doussain, 72), C Kolbe, G Fickour, F Friz (Y Huget, 65), M Medard, Z Holmes, S Bezy; C. Baille (R. Neti, 57) J. Marchand (L. Ghiraldini, 52) C. Faumuina (D. Aldegheri, 52), R. Gray, Y Maestri, P Faasalele (J. Tekori, 73), R. Elstadt (S. Tolofua, 9), F. Cros (LB. Madaule, 65).
J Imhoff, J Rokocoko, A Tuitavake, A Vulivuli, M Andreu (B Dambielle, 69), D Carter (R Tales, 57), T Irabaren (X Chaveau, 57); V. Kakovin (V. Afatia, 46), O. Avei (D. Szarzewski, 45), B. Tameifuna (C. Gomes Sa, 46), B. Palu (E. Maka, 8), M. Carizza, Y. Nyanga, (E. Abadie, 69), B. Chouzenoux, A. Claassen.
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