Every side would be wise to remember to never underestimate Munster in Europe.
The doggedly tough side has a history of knocking off more fancied opponents and dragging them into bare-knuckled slugfests in the Champions Cup.
Last year it was the high-flying Premiership darling Exeter Chiefs who were dragged through two key pool games in which Munster pulled off a tight 9-7 win at home and a 10-all draw at Sandy Park.
The Chiefs never recovered from that opening pool round draw and were left stumbling at the pool stage while Munster went onto their third-straight European semi-final appearance.
As they embark on their quest to make it back to their fourth consecutive semi-final, their European lifeline this season is holding on to a thread but not without hope as the traditionally tough Cork-side has scrapped their way through Pool 4 to stay in contention.
In Simon Zebo’s return to Thomond Park, back in the first clash between the French glamour club Racing 92 and Munster, the visitors built a 14-6 lead early.
Powered by a majestic piece of individual skill by Finn Russell, using a ‘nutmeg’ grubber kick to score the opening try, Racing looked ominous early.
Although he missed a subsequent game-winning drop goal attempt, that sideline conversion confirmed the points would be split and prevented Racing from taking a major leg up in the Pool.
Back-to-back games followed against last year’s Champions and salary-cap sanctioned Saracens, who were boosted by the return of their internationals following a World Cup rest in the return fixture.
Across two dogfights between two physical sides that let nothing slip, just three tries were scored where honours were shared 1-1 in two low scoring affairs.
Both sides completed a mountain-load of tackling as they bashed each other into a stalemate, before frustrations boiled over into a sideline brawl at Allianz Park at the end of the second leg.
Munster’s European season has now reached a pivotal point, with a daunting task ahead to try and slow down Racing’s prolific attack on the fast 4G surface inside La Paris Defense Arena.
Scotland flyhalf Finn Russell has been pulling the strings at the front of a ‘Hollywood’ backline, gifted with riches worthy of any international side at his disposal.
Fijian-born French centre Virimi Vakatawa has been in blistering form this season and wouldn’t look out of place in France’s Six Nations squad. He is top five in defenders beaten along with Racing’s winger Teddy Thomas.
Both Racing wingers, Thomas and Juan Imhoff, sit first and second among all players with the most clean breaks in the Champions Cup this season.
After a quiet night in his first game at Thomond in opposition colours, ex-Munster man Simon Zebo will be looking for a big performance back in the comforts of the high-tech Parisian arena against his old side.
Munster’s stingy defence will have to be even stingier to pull off this invasion into the French capital to steal the full complement of competition points.
With 11 points, they are well in the hunt to qualify for the quarterfinals, but if they are to top the Pool they must win in Paris and also hope that Saracens beat Racing in the final round of pool games.
However, failure to secure any losing bonus points this weekend would put Munster perilously in danger of being leapfrogged by Saracens and missing the finals altogether.
Making matters worse, Munster’s flyhalf Joey Carbery is out for the immediate future after breaking his wrist at Munster training.
But history has proven time and time again – never underestimate Munster in Europe.
You can watch all the Racing 92 v Munster and all the European Champions Cup action live on RugbyPass in Asia and Australia.
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