Johnny Sexton’s two-year Parisian adventure could end abruptly tonight if he cannot steer his Racing Metro colleagues past city rivals Stade Francais in the French Top 14 play-offs.
Stade suffered a shock 27-0 defeat by Brive in the final game of the regulation season last weekend, but club president Thomas Savare said he was happy not to have been drawn with either Toulouse or Oyonnax, who meet in tomorrow’s other play-off.
“I think Racing are probably the best opponents we could play,” Savare said. “They’re a team we respect, we fear. We’ll thus have all the attention needed to prepare for this match,” he told AFP.
Coach Gonzalo Quesada said the Racing clash was a double-edged sword. “Frankly, we said to ourselves that we would have preferred to play Oyonnax, against whom we have lost twice,” the former Argentina fly-half said.
“That would have given us a feeling of revenge. But now it’s Racing, who we’ve beaten twice and it’s they who will have that feeling of revenge.”
Sexton’s Racing have enjoyed a topsy-turvy season, with a raft of top international stars failing to live up to their billing. Dan Lydiate has already returned to the Ospreys, while Sexton and Jamie Roberts are also heading for Leinster and Harlequins respectively next season, although All Black star Dan Carter has signed up.
The performance by many in the latest Parisian derby won 28-19 by a 14-man Stade side left Racing president Jacky Lorenzetti fuming. They rebounded with a sparkling 53-10 victory over Castres last week, but are sure to face a torrid welcome when they travel across town to Stade Francais’ Jean Bouin stadium.
After dicing with relegation back to the ProD2 last year, Oyonnax have this year made history by securing a play-off spot in only their second season in the Top 14. It is a remarkable achievement for the Christophe Urios-coached team that represents a town of just 23,000 inhabitants in the unfashionable rugby area of eastern France and also operates on the smallest budget in the elite French league.
Fired by the dependable boot of Argentinian fly-half Benjamin Urdapilleta and able to field a solid pack, Oyonnax have now become a team no one in the Top 14 takes lightly.
“I knew this club had a real potential,” acknowledged coach Urios, who is off to coach Castres next term a club he won the French title with as a player and previously coached in 2002-05.
“It has some real values, an identity, even if it’s hard to be seen,” he added.
The semi-final pairings next weekend are: Toulon v Stade Francais/Racing-Metro; Clermont Auvergne v Toulouse v Oyonnax.
The final is on June 13.
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