On the European scene, Racing 92 is not a dwarf, with its two European Cup finals in the last four years. However, the Ciel et Blanc seem small against the colossus who stands in front of them in the semi-finals of the Champions Cup, Saturday September 26 at 2 p.m.: the Saracens, three-time winners since 2016 and still adorned with a five-star team.
Difficult to support the gaze of such a giant who crushes everything in its path: the two teams have faced each other eight times in the European Cup, and the club from the suburbs of London have won six times.
No doubt that by entering the field of the Arena of Nanterre (Hauts-de-Seine), the Ile-de-France residents will think of this moment when they could have finished the wounded beast on January 19. Being in the same group in the group stage, the Saracens absolutely had to win their last match against Racing to hope to qualify.
Even if they had evolved in numerical inferiority for a whole period, and were led by seven points, the English had reversed the situation, registering a penalty synonymous with victory in the last minutes (27-24).
“We had the opportunity to take them out, it’s a shame to be deprived of them. Without a doubt, they have the best players in Europe ”, judge Patrick Serrière, general manager of Racing 92. He nevertheless recalls that his team finished in front of the English club during this first phase, in particular thanks to a clear inaugural victory, on November 17, 2019 (30-10) against the champions of ‘Europe outgoing, certainly reduced after the Japanese World Cup in autumn 2019.
The “Sarries” seem however indestructible in Europe, where everything seems to comply with their rules. During the last match against Racing, the English have fielded an unqualified player because his work permit in England had expired two days ago.
The independent disciplinary commission of the European Professional Club Rugby, the organizer of the European Cup, however considered that it was only “A regrettable succession of events caused by an administrative oversight”, and only sanctioned the club with a fine of 50,000 euros.
An elimination would have been a shock for the Saracens, for whom a victory in the final of the European competition appears to be the only way to be able to realign themselves in the European Cup next year – synonymous with substantial financial returns.
The club has indeed been administratively relegated from the first to the second English division for the 2020-2021 season (which will begin in November) for not having respected, over the past three years, the salary cap imposed in the championship: its payroll. has exceeded the £ 7million cap over two of the three seasons by more than a million pounds. He thus financed the arrival of the biggest stars of English rugby, like Owen Farrell (who will be unavailable on Saturday), Maro Itoje or the brothers Mako and Billy Vunipola.
These four players have remained loyal to the club despite relegation. The possibility of putting a little European pepper on a year spent in national purgatory should fuel their motivation. Proof of this is: in the quarterfinals, the Saracens won their qualification by going to beat Leinster on their home ground in Dublin – the Irish ‘first home defeat since 2006 in a knockout match.
“The best players in Europe”
” We are not here to do justice. The pleasure is to meet the best players in Europe », Estimates Patrick Serrière. Unlike the Parisians, the English will not run out of rhythm: they have played eight games, the federation having decided to resume mid-August – and to end – the 2019-2020 season, when the French Top 14, after having ended the 2019-2020 season in March, only started the 2020-2021 season in September .
“We are capable of winning and we will do everything to”, said Teddy Iribaren
“We will stop looking at the Saracens and their supremacy. We are capable of winning and we will do everything to. There are not too many questions to ask “, despite everything launched the captain of Racing 92, Teddy Iribaren, in a press conference Thursday. “The group hasn’t changed too much, neither has the game system. We have gained this trust ”, he explains, with three wins in three games since the resumption of competitions.
His partners will first have to ensure at the front against the English steamroller, which had hurt Racing very badly at the start of the last group match. “At the back, I have the weakness to believe that we have a lot of talents that could make the difference. If we make our match in front, we should pass ”, hopes Patrick Serrière.
No more than 1,000 spectators
Racing will however be deprived of its star rookie of the summer, Australian back Kurtley Beale, suspended for three weeks after a high tackle. He could come back if his partners qualify for the final: their opponent would then be the winner of the second Franco-English clash on Saturday, September 26, Toulouse or Exeter.
Racing players will not be able to count on massive support either, due to the number now limited to 1,000 people for major events in Paris and its inner suburbs. A puzzle for the club, which had already filled the 5,000 places authorized until then and which will have to reimburse certain purchases. “The enclosure has 30,000 seats, and we would have had the capacity to climb to more than 10,000 people while respecting the distancing measures”, regrets Patrick Serrière.
“Already 5,000 is a bit sad. So 1,000 is going to be even sadder. I hope that the supporters present will make some noise ”, wished hooker Camille Chat at a press conference. It will take that, and more, to impress the English colossus.