Racing92 19 Toulon 16: There will, after all, be an Irish presence in the business end of the Champions Cup which the French and English have taken over this season with Ronan O’Gara’s Racing 92 ending the three-year reign of Toulon in Paris yesterday.
Appropriately, and indeed inevitably the way these heavyweight contests are decided, it came down to the place-kickers but it wasn’t the man who Racing spent a fortune on who delivered the goods.
Dan Carter’s kicking duties ended in the first- half when he went down nursing a heavily strapped knee and while he continued to the end, scrum-half Maxime Machenaud took over with the tee. The French international was far from flawless and his miss from 30 metres in front of the posts with six minutes left with the sides deadlocked at 16-16 looked set to provide the opening for Toulon, as they have done so often in dominating Europe for the past three years, to counter and snatch the win.
But it was Racing who got the chance when Martin Castorgiovanni was pinged and Machenaud made no mistake this time from in front of the posts two minutes from the end.
The prize for Racing is a semi-final away to Leicester Tigers where O’Gara will renew acquaintances with Geordan Murphy, guaranteeing one of the former Irish internationals will be involved in the final in Lyon next month.
O’Gara, in his third year with Racing and with a contract extension agreed to 2019, said this win was huge for the club and they needed to make a statement. “We did everything to let Toulon get through and I think mentally it would have been a shattering blow. We lost in the last minute to Saracens but it was weighed up today for us to do well. If we were to beat Toulon it should be today. We just about did it.
“There is no culture of winning in the club, there are no values and there is no culture of previous good things so that is very important to try and do that but you can only do that by your actions speaking louder than words, so you have to be doing that.
“All well and good preaching that during the week but if you are not doing the business on Sunday it is a waste of time so this will give us a boost and it will either go one or two ways. We can kick on and go one or two ways, we can either play very well against Leicester and kick on or else we fall in love with ourselves and think we have beaten Toulon and the job is done,” said O’Gara.
They made a brilliant start and were 10-0 in front after just four minutes with Juan Imhoff crossing for a try and Carter, who got a penalty inside two minutes, adding the conversion.
An unlikely high-scoring contest seemed promising when Charles Ollivon crossed for the champions after nine minutes, but then both reverted to type and a gruelling encounter ensued with Toulon drawing level before the break.
Three missed penalties by Jonathan Pelissie were to prove costly for Toulon but O’Gara said the wind was very tricky and contributed to Machenaud’s late miss.
“At pitch level it was a difficult wind. I was trying to work it out. But you’d expect Max to kick the second last one. it was a pressure game today and he missed one or two but he came back with the one that mattered.”
B Dulin; J Rokocoko, J Goosen, A Dumoulin, J Imhoff; D Carter, M Machenaud; E Ben Arous, D Szarewski, L Ducalcon; L Charteris, F van der Merwe; L Wenceslas, B Le Roux, C Masoe.
M Andreu for Dumoulin (10); C Chat for Szarewski (25); M Carizza for van der Merwe (58); M Castrogiovanni for Ducalcon (69); Y Nyanga for Lauret (69); K Vartanov for Ben Arous (78)
D Armitage; J Tuisova, M Mermoz, M Nonu, J O’Connor; M Giteau, J Pelissie; F Fresia, G Guirado, M Romumu; M Gorgodze, R Taofifenua; J Smith, C Ollivon, D Vermeulen.
S Armitage for Ollivon (41); L Chilachava for Saulo (41), X Chiocci for Fresia (44), T Taylor for Giteau (61); JC Orioli for Guirado (65); T Lassalle for Smith (65); M Bastareaud for Mermoz (74); E Escande for Pelissie (74)
W Barnes (England).
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved