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25th Apr 2018

“There’ll be loads of Zumba going on in the weights room next season” – Donnacha Ryan

Patrick McCarry

“I think if Racing didn’t have Donnacha Ryan yesterday we probably would have won” – Keith Earls (The Hard Yards)

Keith Earls was looking on from the right wing as Munster prepared for a set-piece strike that would, it was hoped, get them back in the game against Racing 92.

Munster were trailing 7-0 after 12 minutes, in Bordeaux, when they pulled out a quirky set-play from an attacking lineout. Backs Alex Wootton and Conor Murray made up one pod, Billy Holland was in a second and CJ Stander stood at the front. Murray was lifted by Munster forward but Niall Scannell found Holland, which was always the plan.

All of the smoke and mirrors were to disguise Stander peeling off the front and making a beeline straight through the two pods. If Donnacha Ryan was not there, the Munster No.8 would have had a straight run at the tryline.

Ryan had read the move, however, and he did not just halt Stander’s momentum, he picked him up and flung him to the ground.

Earls may have stretched it somewhat by suggesting Munster would have won with Ryan in their line-up but he certainly would have made a big difference. Not only did the Racing lineout work well, Munster’s faltered badly and Ryan was a force to be reckoned with at the breakdown and in the loose.

With Munster vanquished, Leinster are up next in the final. Ryan spoke with The Hard Yards [from 37:00 below] about the challenge that awaits in the Champions Cup final and about Simon Zebo linking up with the electric Teddy Thomas next season.

“It was a massively high pressure game [against Munster] and even coming in on the team bus, you could just hear Fields of Athenry ringing out from all the supporters. That was fantastic and I think our players fed off that as well.”

Ryan was not the only one to feel the Bordeaux heat and joked about needing plenty of aloe vera to soothe his sun-soaked skin following his side’s 27-22 victory. Looking ahead to the final against Leinster, who destroyed Scarlets 38-16 the day before, the lock exhaled before remarking, ‘F**king hell’.

Ryan is not the only player in Europe looking on as Leinster scorch opponents and wondering just how they can be defeated. He certainly hopes that Racing can extend that superb 40-minute spell against Munster into the full 80 against Leinster.

“It’s a strange one because we’ve turned it on for spells this season. We’ve literally turned it on for 10 minutes and then, for the rest of it, we’d coast. The only game I can think of where we’ve really put it together would be the Clermont home game when we pumped them and got around 60 points.

“We have the players with the capabilities to do it but it’s just about keep doing the basics well. With some guys, I think, it’s the French mentality – when they are a few points ahead they will try the 80/20 or 90/10 pass that won’t stick but it’ll go for it. We’ve done that a few times, even with Leone (Nakarawa) with the Fijian blood trying offloads with three lads hanging off the back of him. They were momentum-swingers and they gave Munster that extra bit of belief.

“We have switched off at times this year and it has cost us. We have to learn to hang on when we’re not having a purple patch, and not doing damage to ourselves.”

One man who won’t be able to do damage to Leinster is Zebo, who arrives at Racing this summer. Ryan is excited to see Zebo and Racing winger Thomas, who ran in two tries against Munster, link up for the Parisians.

“There’ll be loads of Zumba going on in the weights room next season,” he joked, “with the two lads dancing.”

Stand-out moments, on and off the field.

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