Paris (AFP) – Dan Carter will start on the bench when Racing 92 take on Munster on Sunday for a place in the Champions Cup final, but the All Blacks superstar will be waiting for a chance help his team towards a first European title.
“I love having history and doing things that no teams have done before,” Carter told the competition web site.
Carter, a three-time world player of the year, has been displaced at fly half this season by South African international Pat Lambie.
Carter played 112 times for New Zealand but, at 36, is winding down his stint in France before heading off to play for Kobe Steelers in Japan in the summer.
Lambie, 27, is a rising force and, since arriving in the Paris suburbs in the autumn, has formed a productive partnership with French scrum half Maxime Machenaud.
While Racing’s team for the match in Bordeaux is noteworthy for who has been omitted, the surprise when Munster’s XV was announced on Friday was that winger Ireland Keith Earls will start.
Earls suffered knee ligament injuries as Ireland won the Grand Slam at Twickenham on March 27, but returned to training this week and goes straight into the team.
Andrew Conway, who ran more than half the length of the field with four minutes left to score the dazzling try that beat Toulon in the quarter-finals, keeps his place on the other wing. That means another Ireland international Simon Zebo is relegated to the bench.
Zebo is leaving Munster in the summer — and joining Racing.
“You cannot replace Dan Carter,” Jacky Lorenzetti, the Racing president, told AFP on Friday, explaining that the club had recruited Lambie, Zebo and Scotland’s Finn Russell to fill the void.
– Implacable defence –
While Munster scrum half, Conor Murray, is in dazzling form, Racing combine a pacy, potent attack with great size and implacable defence.
“Racing have got big players, incredible individuals with hundreds of internationals caps between them,” Conway told the Irish Rugby Football Union web site.
The two teams met in the pool stage. Munster won at home but in January, Machenaud kicked two penalties in the last four minutes to give Racing a 34-30 victory in the first European game at their new U Arena.
“There are guys who know how to win knockout games of rugby in both teams and we know Racing quite well from the last few years,” Conway said. “We’ll put a plan in place that we think is our best shot at beating them.”
Racing 92 have rebuilt on and off the field and in 2016 won their first French title since 1990, when the sport was still amateur, and also reached the European final, losing to Saracens in Lyon.
This time, Lorenzetti said, the club has “maturity.”
“That was the first time that we had played in a final in the European Cup,” Lorenzetti explained. “We had no experience.”
European cup history is littered with teams who reached a final, or even two, lost, and found their chance had gone.
Carter knows time could be short.
“If you look back at Racing 92’s history and how rare it is to make a final in Europe, we were lucky enough to do it a couple of years ago, so we’d love to go one step further,” he said.
Carter played his part in the quarter-final in Clermont, coming off the bench for the last 20 minutes and setting up the decisive try with a pass to Machenaud.