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Simon Zebo ready to soak up “special” Thomond atmosphere

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Munster may have pulled off resounding wins home and away over Racing 92 in last year’s edition of the Champions Cup, but Simon Zebo has warned that the Parisian outfit will be a different prospect this time around when they rock up to Limerick for tomorrow’s round 2 clash.

Racing, coached by Ronan O’Gara, registered just one win in last year’s campaign, with it ending early doors in January with a 22-10 loss at Thomond Park.

But Zebo, retaining his place at full-back, only has to look at the team on paper to know what tomorrow has in store for Munster.

“Racing 92 are serious this year. They showed a lot of character by going behind at home and scoring three unanswered tries.  I think they are showing a toughness that wasn’t there last year but we’ll have to be on top of our game if we want to get the win.”

While Racing 92 will prove to be a difficult assignment, Zebo knows Munster can’t afford to pay too much attention to one or two individuals.

Leone Nakarawa is a name that has been up in lights after Racing’s round 1 win over Leicester Tigers. The marauding, all-action second row-famed for his Olympic gold medal with Fiji in Rugby Sevens last year- made 10 offloads last weekend.

An impressive statistic for a tight-five forward but Zebo maintains that Munster need to stick to their plan and get the rangy lock to ground on first attempt.

“I think we’ll just stay together and defend him as a collective and try not to gang up on him and lose our shape. Whoever is tackling him, just make sure that you get him to the ground as quick as possible so that the offload threat is a bit less. It’s part of his game, it’s built into him. That’s the main asset he has to his game, so you’re not going to stop him.” Zebo said.

“But you can nullify him as best you can so we just (have to) try get him to deck as soon as possible.”

They come against a star-studded back-three containing Springbok Pat Lambie and former All Black Joe Rokocoko but Munster have plenty of panache themselves with Zebo, Darren Sweetnam and Keith Earls.

A more polished performance from last week’s trip to France is now top priority in what is a busy autumn period for Irish rugby.

“It was mixed emotions after the game but looking back on it we’ll take the two points definitely. We had a couple of last ditch tackles that saved us from losing so we had opportunities when it was 17-all and we were in the 22 we could have came away with three points or a try if we held onto the ball and boxed a bit more cleverly but it wasn’t to be,” Zebo reflected.

“We were a bit loose with possession and gave away some stupid penalties that could have cost us.”

“You can get away with that at Pro14 against lesser oppositions but you’re playing the best sides in the world so there’s no room for error. I think we were just a bit rusty and we need to learn from our mistakes quickly because one more performance like that and we get a loss and we could be out (of the Champions Cup).”

And now the Ireland international is relishing an electric Thomond Park atmosphere tomorrow, where he will look to attack deep from full back, a position he “always enjoys”.

“It’s my favourite time of year when we play European rugby in Thomond. There’s nothing like it. I have played in a lot of atmospheres around the world but nothing comes close to TP on a European night especially when there are a few pints in the crowd.

“It’s frightening the atmosphere when you’re in the middle of the pitch, the noise the crowd can generate is incredible. The lights are going to be on again so it will be special and ROG is coming over with his French side so that should add to it.

2I always enjoy full back. I’m just happy to be out on the pitch playing i had a bit of a knock early on in the season and didn’t get much game time so just trying to get some momentum myself and enjoy as much as possible.  When they kick to you, you usually have a couple of seconds to scan and see what’s in front of you and try make a break or score a try from deep.”

Munster:  Simon Zebo;  Darren Sweetnam, Chris Farrell, Rory Scannell, Keith Earls; Ian Keatley, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Rhys Marshall, Stephen Archer;  Jean Kleyn, Billy Holland; Peter O’Mahony (c), T O’Donnell,  CJ Stander

Substitutes: Kevin O’Byrne,  Liam O’Connor,  John Ryan,  Mark Flanagan,  Jack O’Donoghue, Duncan Williams, JJ Hanrahan, Andrew Conway

Racing 92: Pat Lambie; Joe Rokocoko, Henry Chavancy, Anthony Tuitavke,  Louis Dupichot; Dan Carter, Maxime Machenaud;  Eddy Ben Arous, Camille Chat, Ben Tameifuna; Bernard Le Roux, Leone Nakarawa; Wenceslas Lauret,  Yannick Nyanga,  Antonie Claassen

Substitutes: Dimitri Szarzewski, Viliamu Afatia, Census Johnston, Baptiste Chouzenoux, Edwin Maka, Teddy Iribaren,  Remi Tales, Albert Vulivuli

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