Munster close in on quarter-final berth
January 20, 2013
Winger Simon Zebo crossed for a hat-trick of tries at Thomond Park
© Getty Images
Munster swept to a 29-6 victory over Racing Metro in their Heineken Cup clash at Thomond Park on Sunday to edge nearer a place in the quarter-finals and end the hopes of Irish rivals and defending champions Leinster.
Simon Zebo scored a hat-trick of tries as Rob Penney's side grabbed a much-needed bonus-point win to leapfrog their Irish rivals into the second best runners-up spot. But they must wait for the result of Leicester's clash with Toulouse before they can celebrate reaching the last eight with both sides still able to usurp them.
Racing were forced to play without Antoine Battut for 74 minutes in Limerick, the flanker earning an early red card for a knee to the head. A trio of first-half tries, topped off by Mike Sherry's first Heineken Cup score, handed Munster a deserved 17-6 interval lead.
Gaetan Germain landed a brace of penalties for the visitors, but the home side took their try tally to five as man of the match Zebo grabbed his second European hat-trick.
The adrenaline was pumping at kick-off as Munster made a typically raucous start with Ian Keatley, deputising for the suspended Ronan O'Gara, heavily involved. He blundered when kicking a penalty out on the full but the game was turned on its head with the early dismissal of Battut.
Referee Wayne Barnes promptly brandished a red card after spotting Battut aiming a knee towards the head of Tommy O'Donnell at a midfield ruck. Barnes was in the thick of the action again when Keatley caught him flush in the face with a clearance kick. Munster infringed at the resulting scrum and full-back Germain mopped up with three points.
Space was at a premium despite some incisive running from Zebo and Felix Jones, but Munster's patience was rewarded in the 25th minute. Their forwards were suitably fired up after a short dust-up. A well-orchestrated maul then propelled them forward and scrum-half Conor Murray broke to the left to crash over past two defenders.
Keatley converted and just three minutes later prop David Kilcoyne's rumble through the middle provided the momentum for Munster to put Zebo over in the left corner. This time the try was unconverted and Racing, although coming under increasing pressure, lifted the siege with a second penalty from Germain.
However, Munster made it three tries in the space of 11 minutes as Peter O'Mahony assisted hooker Sherry over the line on the end of a muscular lineout maul. Keatley's missed conversion was followed by two more near misses as Munster tried to seal the bonus point by the break.
Captain Doug Howlett and Keith Earls launched kick chases that almost yielded the desired returns, with Racing scampering back to just deny them. Howlett went close again on the resumption, but a threaded kick through from Keatley just had too much on it.
Eight minutes into the second half, the bonus point was in the bag. Full-back Jones initiated a slick counter attack, passing for Zebo to dink a kick through and collect it on the bounce. Keatley added the extras for a 24-6 lead and with Munster now bubbling with confidence, Zebo was soon released for the left corner by the increasingly effective Earls.
That try sparked some improved play from Racing, with replacement Sebastien Descons and captain Jacques Cronje keeping them focused and going forward.
They made a valiant attempt to end their European campaign with a try as number eight Cronje stretched for the line, but he was penalised for a double movement. A yellow card for replacement Masi Matadigo saw Racing finish the game with 13 players, while Munster youngster Paddy Butler also saw yellow in the dying minutes.
"Once we got into our rhythm, I thought at times we were compelling. We looked very efficient," said Munster coach Rob Penney. "Our mental preparation and ability to stay focused for the whole 80 minutes was something we were going to need today. The relentlessness we were seeking was there.
"If we hadn't (reached the quarter-finals) the people would be in the long grass, there would have been a lot of bullets being fired. If we hadn't gotten the outcome today, I would have been still proud of the progress we are making and the areas of growth we are getting. I really believe in this team and the direction it is going."
Racing Metro's Sireli Bobo and Munster's Doug Howlett vie for the ball © Getty Images
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