SIMON Zebo scored a hat-trick of tries as Munster swept past 14-man Racing Metro 29-6 and knocked Leinster out of the Heineken Cup in the process.
Rob Penney’s men needed a bonus-point win at Thomond Park in order to leapfrog their Irish rivals into the second best runners-up spot.
Racing were forced to play without Antoine Battut for 74 minutes in Limerick, the flanker earning an early red card for a knee to the head. A trio of first-half tries, topped off by Mike Sherry’s first Heineken Cup score, handed Munster a deserved 17-6 interval lead.
Gaetan Germain landed a brace of penalties for the visitors, but the home side took their try tally to five as man of the match Zebo grabbed his second European hat-trick.
The game was turned on its head with the early dismissal of Battut. Referee Wayne Barnes promptly brandished a red card after spotting Battut aiming a knee towards the head of Tommy O’Donnell at a midfield ruck. Barnes was in the thick of the action again when Keatley caught him flush in the face with a clearance kick. Munster infringed at the resulting scrum and full-back Germain mopped up with three points.
Space was at a premium despite some incisive running from Zebo and Felix Jones, but Munster’s patience was rewarded in the 25th minute. Their forwards were suitably fired up after a short dust-up. A well-orchestrated maul then propelled them forward and scrum-half Conor Murray broke to the left to crash over past two defenders. Ian Keatley converted and just three minutes later prop David Kilcoyne’s rumble through the middle provided the momentum for Munster to put Zebo over in the left corner. This time the try was unconverted and Racing, although coming under increasing pressure, lifted the siege with a second penalty from Germain. However, Munster made it three tries in the space of 11 minutes as Peter O’Mahony assisted hooker Sherry over the line on the end of a muscular lineout maul.
Keatley’s missed conversion was followed by two more near misses as Munster tried to seal the bonus point by the break.
Eight minutes into the second half, the bonus point was in the bag. Full-back Jones initiated a slick counter attack, passing for Zebo to dink a kick through and collect it on the bounce.
Keatley added the extras for a 24-6 lead and with Munster now bubbling with confidence, Zebo was soon released for the left corner by the increasingly effective Keith Earls. A yellow card for replacement Masi Matadigo saw Racing finish the game with 13 players, while Munster youngster Paddy Butler also saw yellow late on.