By Arnaud Coudry
Published 7 minutes ago, Updated now
Marcus Smith in the fight with Gaël Fickou. MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP
Beaten on Sunday in their Arena by Harlequins, the leaders of the Top 14 will play a large part of their future in the competition, Saturday evening, in Belfast against Ulster.
In Paris La Défense Arena
The Champions Cup is a goal regularly displayed by Racing 92, an unfortunate finalist three times (2016, 2018, 2020). But this new campaign immediately took a turn for the worse, with this setback in Paris La Défense Arena against Harlequins (28-31). A listless first half, a burst in the second half, before diving back to let the match slip away. The Hauts-de-Seine club, far too inconsistent, can blame themselves. “Harlequins were really on top of us in the first half, notes English manager Stuart Lancaster. In the second half, we were better strategically but we conceded some easy tries, the fault of a lot of missed tackles.
In a competition which gives pride of place to the game, the Racingmen were overwhelmed by the speed of execution and the cold efficiency of the Marcus Smith gang, author of a remarkable match of mastery and efficiency. “He’s a really special player, greeted his third row and captain Alex Dombrandt. He can create something out of nothing. Having him on our team gives us a lot of confidence. He’s a great player and we’re lucky to have him.” The international fly-half of the XV de la Rose had a blast on the Arena’s synthetic turf, even hitting an impeccable 45m drop before the break.
Opposite, the Altosequnais club, although leader of the Top 14, played in reaction. Running after the score then unable to keep it once it was acquired. Siya Kolisi and his teammates were leading 28-17 at the hour mark. But they collapsed in the face of London’s onslaught. “Our game plan is to practice the rugby that is ours, namely an expansive rugby, where we play and attack, but we were also rigorous on the bases,” says Alex Dombrandt. On the side of the Ile-de-France residents, this recurring problem has come to the surface this season, of failed, passive starts to matches. “We have seen in the last matches that we have difficulty starting our matches, agrees Ile-de-France third row Wenceslas Lauret. We always come back into the game but I think we have to take the matches from the right end and start well to put pressure on our opponents.
“It shows us what we still need to progress on”
The lack of control of Racing was blatant. “The best teams, and Harlequins are one of them, like to test us and they pressure us into making defensive mistakes. It shows us what we still need to progress on.”, insists Stuart Lancaster. Already, last season, Harlequins came very close to victory in Nanterre, losing only 30-29 in an already completely crazy match. “We anticipated that they were going to come with an offensive mindset. This is what happened last season: these players like to attack, notes Fijian center Francis Saili. “We weren’t aggressive enough in defense and that gave players like Marcus Smith space to break our lines.”
The week will be short and we will quickly have to move on to an already crucial match – almost life and death – on Saturday evening in Belfast against Ulster, who also stumbled from the start against Bath. A second setback would almost condemn the Ciel et Blanc. Coué method, Stuart Lancaster tries to be positive: “In the end, we’re not doing too badly with these two bonus points (offensive and defensive) but now we will have to go and win in Belfast.” A hostile land where French clubs have rarely triumphed. “It’s going to be a game to stay alive, “Wen” Lauret plant. They, like us, have everything to play for if we want to stay in the competition. If we want to qualify, we have to win this match.” Racing will have to, one thing is certain, show a completely different face, more conquering, less wait-and-see. Under penalty of seeing its Champions Cup ambitions come to an end on the second day. Which would be a first failure for the new Racing Lancaster version.
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