With an emphatic victory over Montpellier (40-25) the Ciel et Blanc last night guaranteed a home quarter-final at Colombes. Scoring four tries, but without the precious bonus point, Racing 92 dominated the visitors with a combination of pace and commitment. Finishing the round-robin in fourth place, they will now play a home quarter-final against Toulouse next Saturday
There was much at stake last night at Colombes, but despite still missing several key players, and despite the humiliating 60-7 defeat in the away leg to Montpellier, Dimitri Szarzewski and his men lifted their game, to end the TOP 14 round robin on a high note. The only regret is that the Racingmen did not manage to clinch the all-important try bonus, which would have given them a more favourable draw in the quarter-final.
Running in four tries, including two to Juan Imhoff, the Franciliens were always in control, and if it were not for a drop in concentration in the final minutes, they might easily have come away with a precious bonus point. It was not to be, but the fact remains that over 70 of the 80 minutes, the Ciel et Blanc took the visitors by surprise with the ferocity of their commitment at the breakdown, the quality of their attack and their ability to play on the front foot.
In short, in front of their home crowd at Yves-du-Manoir, the Ciel et Blanc again showed signs of their outstanding form in the European Champions Cup. And after two fine wins against Pau (43-13) and La Rochelle (14-30), this third successive victory is a perfect build-up for the quarter-final against Stade Toulousain next Saturday (8:45pm).
“It’s an important win to get under the belt”, commented Laurent Travers at the end of the match. “We all knew that Montpellier was coming here to try and qualify directly for the semis. But we wanted to show that we still exist, and the players this evening proved that as well as talent, there is quality in this side.”
Two superb tries in the first half gave the Ciel et Blanc a handy 20-13 lead at half time. The Franciliens had opened the scoring with a 40-metre goal to Maxime Machenaud after only two minutes, to which Catrakilis responded in the 11th minute (3-3), but another penalty against Bismarck du Plessis in the 18th gave Johan Goosen the chance to goal from 45 metres near the touchline (6-3).
Almost straight from the restart, however, the same Goosen was to set the ground alight with two spectacular pieces of wizardry. First, from near his own goal-line, Goosen dummied, slashed through the defence, kicked up-field to put Montpellier under pressure deep in their own 22. From the ensuing scrum, Henry Chavancy crashed through the defence, the ball flew out to Goosen who again bamboozled the opposing backline and with two side-steps got in behind the defensive line before feeding Juan Imhoff steaming up on the outside. The Argentine wing scored, Machenaud converted, and the Ciel et Blanc lead 13-3 after 20 minutes.
Despite another goal to Catrakilis (13-6, 24’) the Ciel et Blanc struck another killer blow virtually straight from the kick-off, with a try to Joe Rokocoko. From a solid scrum on the left, the Racingmen went through the phases, repeatedly putting Montpellier on the back foot. A superb clean-out by Bernard Le Roux, aided by Manu Carizza gave another perfect ruck ball to Machenaud, who found Rokocoko close to the ruck, and the former All Black did the rest, slicing through the defence to score under the posts. 20-6 with the conversion, and the Ciel et Blanc were totally in charge.
Montpellier reduced the lead just before half-time, with a try from a lineout drive, immediately following a yellow card to Yannick Nyanga. The Ciel et Blanc still led 20-13 at the break, but despite being one man short, continued to harass the Montpelliérains, going so far as to score a third try (47’) before Nyanga came back on the pitch, Juan Imhoff notching his second after a superb collective movement capped off with two decisive breaks from Albert Vulivuli and Wenceslas Lauret. 27-13, then 30-13 after another goal to Machenaud from 40 metres, the Ciel et Blanc were not just in control, they were now full of confidence, while the visitors started bringing on the reserves to try and stem the tide.
With less than 10 minutes to play, Montpellier eventually struck back a try to Spies (33-18), but a few minutes later, the Ciel et Blanc ran in their fourth try, Bernard Le Roux powering over after an attacking scrum in the opposition 22, another penetrative run from Vulivuli, and great work around the fringes by Juandre Kruger and Luc Barba. Goosen converted, to take the score to 40-18 (78’), but in the final minute the Ciel et Blanc again dropped their guard.
With the last ball of the game, veteran tight-head prop Nicolas Mas, the most-capped prop in the history of French , who is about to hang up his boots, found space around the ruck and sprinted 25 metres to score in the corner. A fine farewell gift from the Ciel et Blanc, which thankfully had no effect on the result or the final rankings.
Accordingly, the Ciel et Blanc finish on 81 points, the same as Montpellier, but must content themselves with fourth place in the TOP 14. Racing 92 will thus host the fifth placed team Stade Toulousain for the play-off next Saturday evening, while Montpellier will play at home to Castres on Sunday afternoon.
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