Racing 92 have a vast collection of high profile stars in their team, notably two-time World Cup winner Dan Carter, but it’s their Fijian second row Leone Nakarawa who has been the standout in their Champions Cup campaign so far, playing every minute in their march to the semi-finals.
His stats are remarkable – he tops in the offload standings with 19, an impressive seven more than second-placed Louis Picamoles, with the in-form Chris Ashton in third place on 11. This marries in with Nakarawa’s high workrate, he is second in the carries charts with 104, just one behind Munster’s number 8 CJ Stander.
The man can shift the gears, he’s the sole forward in the top-five in terms of defenders beaten, joint-fourth on 22 alongside 2018 Natwest 6 Nations top try scorer Jacob Stockdale. Only his fellow countrymen Nemani Nadolo and Josua Tuisova, along with the Ospreys’ Owen Watkin are ahead of him.
His prowess at lineout is illustrated by the fact that he’s fourth in the lineout standings with 31 takes. Top of the pile in that category is Munster’s Peter O’Mahoney on 38 – the lineout battle is just one fascinating subplot to the match in Bordeaux on Sunday. The danger for Munster is that Nakarawa can also lean on the inside knowledge provided by his second row partner Donnacha Ryan.
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Nakarawa’s pedigree is without question, he was named in the team of the tournament after the 2015 Rugby World Cup and one magazine recently ranked him third in the world in their top-100 players.
Success has followed him too – and Munster know first-hand – Nakarawa was man-of-the-match when Glasgow Warriors beat the Irish side 31-13 in the 2015 PRO12 final. He was also a key figure in Fiji’s Sevens team claiming gold at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, scoring a try in the gold medal match.
Munster have been reacquainted with the 30-year-old this season, Nakarawa scored Racing’s only try in their 14-7 defeat at Thomand in Pool 4, and played at number eight in the return, a 34-30 win at the U Arena.
Nakarawa’s try scoring record this season for Racing is also striking, he’s scored once every four games, including in their recent quarter-final win over Clermont Auvergne.
If Munster are to keep the 1.99m, 109kg forward quiet it will go a long way to nullifying their French opponents. However, if Racing do get the upper hand up front Johann van Graan’s side can expect tough day – scrum half Maxime Machenaud’s ability to be able to control affairs at scrum half is well known. He has plenty of options outside him too with Springbok Pat Lambie at 10, while French duo Virimi Vakatawa and Teddy Thomas add pace and power. Such is Racing’s embarrassment of riches, that they can afford to have two All Blacks on the bench, in Carter and Joe Rokocoko.
Munster in terms of European experience cannot be matched, this will be their 13th semi-final, but Racing themselves reached the 2016 Champions Cup final and certainly won’t be overawed by the occasion on Sunday.
The two matches between the sides have been close this season, but with 36-year-old Carter available to marshal Racing 92 home in the closing stages of this encounter, it could be the factor that swings it the French club’s way, along with having an imposing in-form Fijian forward in their ranks.
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