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16th man can again play its part as Munster face Racing 92

By Aidan Corr
BEFORE a ball is kicked in Thomond Park on Saturday night the Munster players will have been sufficiently energized by the 16th man. Champions Cup games at this venue are unique and while the older, more traditionalist supporters have their own views on the pre-match hype, the choir and the ‘Stand Up and Fight,’ as well as the almost obligatory exit from the warm-up via the touchlines and the end lines, the crowd and the players feed off the energy. The formula has been successful so far, so why change a good thing!
If there is one experience that Rassie Erasmus is certain to take home with him between now and December it will be the magic of Thomond Park on big match days and the fervour of the Munster fans. According to the man who will take over the Springboks at the end of the year, he has never experienced anything like it.
“Yes, the fans play a big role but they also show a lot of respect for the visiting teams. It is quite unique and the fervour of the supporters creates this very special atmosphere which certainly rubs off on the players.
“If we can win this week-end we can go to the top of the pool as leaders going into the break, that is the silver lining view, but Racing will be thinking that they can go top because they have four points so it is a very important game for both teams,” Rassie told us.
The return of Munster legend Ronan O’Gara to a stadium he lit up with his remarkable talent for well over a decade, adds to the excitement of Saturday’s fixture and the 5.30 kick-off brings back the magic of some particularly spectacular Munster performances. But is the art of drop goals a dying skill we asked the Munster head coach: “We actually got a few drop goals last season,” he reminded us, “and Castres missed one with the last play of the game on Sunday so the drop goal is still very much part of the game. No doubt Ronan will have Racing well prepared for this one. They have a win behind them and their pack is very impressive. They contest the breakdown well and they will be a very difficult side to beat.”
Now looking very comfortable in the number 15 jersey, Simon Zebo is eagerly looking forward to Saturday night’s game: “You can get away with mistakes in PRO14 but you are up against some of the best teams in world rugby in the Champions Cup so there is no room for error. We were a bit rusty in Castres on Sunday so we will have to learn from our mistakes. Another bad performance like that and we could miss out in the pool.”
‘Zeebs’ also spoke of the influence of the fans in big games like this one: “Yea, these are the games we really look forward to. The fans are amazing and the atmosphere of a 5.30 kick-off really lifts the team. We watched the Racing and Leicester match and that gave us some idea of the strength of the French side. Our discipline was again not what it should be last week-end and we will have to sort that out. I’ve enjoyed playing at full-back and it is a good place to attack from when you field the ball. You get a couple of seconds to see what’s ahead of you and where to make a possible break, and sometimes it works for you.”
South African signing Chris Cloete (pictured) was with the Munster squad in camp this week and he is registered to play in Europe after finishing in the Currie Cup last week-end. He is an explosive back-row and is in good form at present so he will undoubtedly be an important asset.

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