Connacht next for Munster after Racing squeeze

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Simon Zebo will play his last Champions Cup game at Thomond Park for Munster this afternoon. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

By Mal Keaveney AFTER honouring the first anniversary of Anthony Foley’s untimely passing with a richly deserved Champions Cup defeat of cash-rich Racing 92, Munster return to competitive action with a Guinness PRO14 Derby clash against Connacht at the Galway Showgrounds on Friday next (7.35pm, live TG4).

In the nastiest of conditions at Thomond Park on Saturday evening, Munster ground-out an essential 14-7 victory over their Pool Four French opponents with whom former Reds legend Ronan O’Gara is now a key member of the coaching staff.

Having come away with a draw in their opening fixture against Castres the week before, this was a crucial win for Rassie Erasmus’ men.

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An hour long deadlock was eventually broken when Conor Murray blocked down an attempted Maxime Machenaud clearance and collected to score his eight European try that was expertly converted by Ian Keatley.

Ten minutes later replacement wing Andrew Conway crashed over for a try, with Keatley again adding the necessary to put Munster in pole position.

Racing, however, emptied their bench and managed a converted try to earn an important losing bonus point.

“We broke. We cracked first. That is what happened,” was O’Gara’s snap assessment of the Thomond Park happenings.

Connacht, meanwhile, made heavy weather at home before getting the better of Donnacha O’Callaghan’s Worcester Warriors (15-8) in the Challenge Cup.

Munster will not venture into European competition again until the crucial back-to-back fixtures with pool favourites Leicester Tigers in December, when new man Johann Van Grann will be in situ, having shadowed Erasmus for a week in the lead-up to the Racing match.

On the presence of Van Grann in Limerick, Keatley commented: “We gave him a little flavour of what it is like and we were talking to him and he said there were a few key words that were brought forward to him about what Munster was like and he said the reason that really drew him here to Munster and obviously it is good to put in a good first performance for him to watch us live.”

Keatley added: “He has talked about signing a three-year contract but he said that he was thinking well past the three years. He said the whole family is moving over and he is committed to Ireland. That is a sign of a man that is going to commit fully to the club which is great.”

Meanwhile, almost unnoticed defending champions Munster A are two wins from as many starts in the British & Irish Cup.

In their latest assignment, Peter Malone’s Munster were clear-cut and very impressive 38-7 winners over English Championship side Nottingham at Irish Independent Park in Cork. The hosts went over for five tries courtesy of Evan Mintern (2), Brian Scott, Sam Arnold and Sean O’Connor, while out-half Bill Johnston was unerring off the tee with six scores from as many attempts.

On the injury front, front-row James Cronin (knee) and second-row Darren O’Shea both returned to action. Munster A play their next game in the competition against Bedford Blues in December.