Most neutral fans will be reaching for their blue and white striped rugby shirts this afternoon when Racing 92 take on Munster in Bordeaux if only because the Parisian club has yet to add the European Champions Cup to its venerable palmares.
The bookies find it difficult to separate these two semi-finalists and so does almost everyone else. After being pooled together this season they have already played each other twice, finishing with honours even. Munster took the Thomond Park game 14-7 while Racing edged a 34-30 thriller in Paris.
Oddly enough the real interest when the teams were announced was not centred on who was playing but instead on who was to be found among the reserves. Racing go into this game with Springbok Pat Lambie starting in the No.10 shirt so Dan Carter, in many eyes the best player from the professional era, sits on the bench. If his 36 years are a good excuse, the Kiwi will be sharing the boiled sweets with Irish star Simon Zebo, pictured, who, at the age of 28, should be at the peak of his considerable powers.
Zebo’s fall from grace might be related to the fact that the former Ireland full-back/winger joins Racing 92 next season and Munster coach Johann van Graan has made a big call starting a potential match winner among the substitutes.
Ahead of the team announcement, former Munster player-turned-pundit Alan Quinlan had this to say: “I think it would be a brave call to take Zebo out. There is speculation about it and it’s a decision that has to be made. For me, I would pick Earls, Conway and Zebo at full-back.”
Zebo is feeling the chill but he was also overlooked by Ireland coach Joe Schmidt and Ireland still managed a Grand Slam this season without the Munsterman.
Instead van Graan has picked English-born, Ireland-qualified winger Alex Wootten on one wing, with Keith Earls on the other and Andrew Conway, who scored that incredible try four minutes from time to thrust Munster into this semi-final, switching to full-back. Incidentally centre Sam Arnold is another “Englishman” in the Munster team, let go by Harlequins, possibly for being too small.
For their part Racing trust in Teddy Thomas, who was in outstanding Six Nations form until dropped for some post-match indiscipline in Edinburgh. Former Glasgow Warrior Leone Nakawara finds himself in the second row alongside Donnacha Ryan...formally with Munster.
It promises to be feisty.