But Racing Metro president Jacky Lorenzetti believes he is building a squad which will not only become familiar with the business end of Europe’s premier competition but will win it on a regular basis.
The liberal use of the chequebook during the summer — and even this week with the acquisition of Lions scrum-half Mike Phillips — suggested they were nearing completion of that squad and that it was only a matter of time before the Heineken Cup is resting in Paris for the first time.
Saturday’s happenings at the soccer ground belonging to Nantes Atlantique — nearly 400km away from their Paris base — suggests they are as far away as ever from being a force in Europe. They are in a tough pool. They won their opening game at home to Clermont Auvergne but could only manage a draw away to Scarlets. They, like everyone else who went there for the past few years, are unlikely to get anything when they visit Clermont in January, but a win in Nantes on Saturday against a Harlequins side beaten in both their opening games, and they were on track for a first visit to the quarter-finals.
Now that seems unlikely barring a series of superb results and on Saturday Racing did not look like a side with the necessary fire in their bellies to carve out a cup win. They didn’t introduced Jonathan Sexton until the start of the second-half despite Benjamin Dambielle having a nightmare and, if the game wasn’t gone from them at 17-3 down at the break, it disappeared five minutes after the restart when full-back Juan Martin Hernandez spilled a high kick — typical of the litany of basic errors on the day by the Argentine and several of his colleagues — and Charlie Walker broke for Harlequins third try. They got a fourth before the end and could now become the first side to lose their opening two games and qualify for the knockout stages. Conor O’Shea was anxious afterwards to play down the significance of the win ahead of Saturday’s rematch in London but the opening tries from Nick Evans and Nick Easter were rounded off by a late bonus point effort from replacement scrum-half Karl Dickson.
“It is only half-time and we need to do this again next week. We made a poor start to the campaign so we have a good bit of ground to make up. But this was a step in the right direction,” said O’Shea.
It was anything but a step in the right direction for Racing Metro and O’Gara, who must surely have been tempted to shed the tracksuit and go out and show them how to control a game, didn’t mince his words afterwards.
“It is very easy to analyse it, we were just second best in everything, beaten in every facet of play, ”said O’Gara.
It was second time Racing Metro brought a Heineken Cup match to Nantes and, while they brought 29,000 with them this time, the result was the same as last year’s outcome against Saracens.
A demoralising defeat full of schoolboy errors from a team which looked way out of its depth. And it is only the pool stages.
Scorers for Racing Metro: Try: B Le Roux. Pens: B Dambielle.
Scorers for Harlequins: Tries: N Evans, N Easter, C Walker, K Dickson. Cons: N Evans (3). Pens: N Evans (2).
RACING METRO: JM Hernandez; B Fall, F Estebanez, A Dumoulin, M Andreu (J Imhoff 39); B Dambielle (J Sexton 40), M Machenaud (M Phillips 62); E Ben Arous (D Khinchagishvili 47), D Szarzewski (V Lacombe 62), L Ducalcon (B Mujati 47, Ducalcon 51)); F van der Merwe (K Fhzal 22-28, 68), J Kruger; W Lauret, B Le Roux, J Nailiko (C Gerondeau 47)).
HARLEQUINS: M Brown; C Walker, M Hopper (B Botica 69), T Casson (T Molenaar 42), S Smith; N Evans, D Care (K Dickson 70); J Marler (M Lambert 70), D Ward, W Collier (P Doran Jones 56); C Matthews (N Kennedy 56), G Robson; L Wallace, C Robshaw, N Easter.
Referee: L Hodges (WRU).