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Munster Rugby back-rower CJ Stander wants to reward the Thomond Park faithful with a home European Rugby Champions Cup quarter-final.
The Irish Province have already advanced from Pool 1 to their 16th European quarter-final in 19 seasons after their last-gasp triumph at Glasgow Warriors in Round 5. A second Champions Cup victory over Racing 92 would earn them a home tie in the last-eight, but the Paris side showed they are far from finished in this competition when they thrashed Leicester Tigers 34-3last time out.
Captain Peter O’Mahony, Simon Zebo and Tommy O’Donnell all look set to return to the starting XV, but Keith Earls is doubtful with a rib injury. CJ Stander scored a crucial try their Round 1 victory over Racing two weeks ago, and he is determined to finish the job on Saturday.
He said: “We still need to go out and work hard next weekend. It comes down to the day and how they pitch up. We have to take that into consideration. The European Rugby Champions Cup is a different game, you need to pitch up every week and if you don’t you’re going to disappoint yourself.
“It’s a special place. The experience there, you get out there and it’s a sea of red and I’m massively proud to be in a set up like this, where you see supporters that keep giving everything.
“If we don’t pitch up during the week and don’t train well this week it’s going to be a tough weekend. On the other side, we were looking forward to a game like this. These are the ones you want to be picked for.”
Last season’s runners-up Racing have endured a tough pool stage campaign, losing four of their five matches so far. But they are out for revenge against a Munster side who claimed a 32-7 triumph at Stade Yves-du-Manoir. And scrum-half Maxime Machenaud is determined to show their true colours.
He said: “In the first leg, we were completely missing. It was a non-match on our part, we let the Munster play. The whole group was disappointed with our performance, so it's up to us to show another side of us in this return match.
“Okay, Munster are a good team, but we are able to do much better. And that's what we're going to try to show on Saturday. “
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If Munster thought Racing 92 were going to come to Thomond Park and roll over, then they got it hopelessly wrong.
Buoyed by their bonus-point win over Leicester Tigers in Round 5, last season’s Champions Cup finalists and reigning French champions turned the final game of their campaign into anything but a cakewalk for the home side.
While there was little other than pride to play for in the Racing ranks, Munster were looking to bag a home draw in the quarter-finals the week after clinching their ticket into the last eight. They eventually reached their target, just edging out Champions Cup holders Saracens for the No 2 ranking, but they were made to fight all the way.
Maxime Machenaud got the first chance to set the scoreboard moving after 12 minutes, but he pulled his penalty attempt. In the end, it took 36 minutes of ding-dong action before Simon Zebo crashed over for the first of three Munster tries.
That came moments after Benjamin Dambielle was sent to the sin-bin for stopping Conor Murray getting the ball at the base of a ruck on the Racing line. A score seemed inevitable and Zebo came up with his sixth try in four games against the French side.
Tyler Bleyendaal added the conversion, but Machenaud knocked over a penalty on the stroke of half-time to make it 7-3 at the break. The opening 10 minutes of the second half saw Munster put their foot on the accelerator as Bleyendaal kicked a penalty and then converted a try wide out on the left by Ronan O’Mahony.
It looked as though that might be the launch-pad for a push for more points from the home side, but Racing had other ideas. They stayed in the game, worked Henry Chavancy over for a try that Machenaud improved and had the Munster faithful moving onto the edge of their seats with the scoreboard showing 17-10 with 20 minutes to go.
It stayed that way for the next 10 minutes until Ian Keatley made an immediate impact after replacing Zebo by taking an inside pas from Andre Conway to dive over for the vital third try. Bleyendaal couldn’t convert, but that was job done as far as Munster were concerned.
They will be back at Thomond Park in the quarter-finals for the ninth time in their history.
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