Racing 92 star Yannick Nyanga admitted his side might not have beaten Munster without the presence of Donnacha Ryan.
Ryan, 34, left his home province last summer for Paris after failing to secure a central IRFU contract, and the Nenagh lock made his presence felt at the U Arena yesterday as he gave his old side a taste of what they have missed, playing a significant part in securing two late penalties that tipped the balance in this entertaining Champions Cup pool game.
Ryan was part of a powerful Racing pack which won all the key collisions in the early parts of both halves, during which the Parisians scored crucial tries that laid the platform for their 34-30 victory.
He also vitally won a Racing restart after Conor Murray had kicked a long-range penalty to edge Munster in front 30-28, making ground down the right touchline to leap above Ian Keatley and bring the ball to ground, from where Jack O’Donoghue conceded the ruck penalty that Maxime Machenaud slotted to push his team back in front, with five minutes to go.
Yet Ryan’s work was not finished, and soon after he again made the hard metres to hunt down Keatley and pressurise the fly-half into a sliced clearance kick that allowed Racing back into the Munster 22 and force another penalty to secure the win.
For back-rower Nyanga, whose third-minute try set the ball rolling, it summed up the impact his new Irish team-mate is having on Racing.
“He brings a lot of experience to us because we have a lot of talent in the team but not a lot of experience, we are learning,” Nyanga said.
“When you have a player like Donnacha, he’s a huge addition to the team and if he wasn’t here I don’t know if we would have won the game. We’re happy to have him in our side and not theirs.”
Ryan is proving to be every bit the leader he was in the Munster dressing-room, despite the initial language barrier.
“His French is getting better, it’s not perfect yet but it’s getting better,” Nyanga added. “He talks a lot and he acts a lot. His actions speak louder than his words and you want to follow him.”
Ryan greeted his old team-mates warmly at the final whistle and quickly swapped jerseys with Keith Earls, pulling on the wing’s much smaller red shirt to remind supporters of what once they had.
It was not long before he was back in the Munster dressing room.
“It was good to have him in there,” CJ Stander said. “Look, he’s a tough man. He knows exactly what we do so he made it a bit difficult for us.
“I think he played a great game. I think that kick-off he caught at the end was exceptional. It just shows what a tough player he is. It was good to see him afterwards in the changing room and have a chat, and see how life is here for him. It looks like he is certainly enjoying it.” Nyanga is looking forward to greeting another Munsterman to Racing with Simon Zebo set to join this summer.
“Simon speaks a bit of French, I know him from some parties! It will be easier for him,” the flanker said with a smile.
“When you see the game he played today, he’s an exciting player to have in your side. We look forward to having him. He’s a fast player, likes to pass the ball and jump in the air. With all the good players we have he’s a good addition.”
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