Racing 92 players have done well not to let go! The Ile-de-France club validated its ticket for the final of the European Cup, Saturday, September 26, by excluding the English from Saracens, title holders, at the very end of the match (19-15). Argentine winger Juan Imhoff delivered his own by scoring the only try of the game, four minutes from the end of the locked match.
After their failures in 2016 and 2018, the Ciel et Blancs thus offered themselves a third opportunity to win their first European star. It will be October 17 against Exeter, winner of Toulouse.
In this very closed meeting played in Nanterre (Hauts-de-Seine), the Racingmen were able to meet the challenge of the closed scrum imposed by the Sarries, a week after having achieved a clear success in Clermont (36-27). His lack of consistency in the aerial game did not ultimately penalize him, compensated by his defense and his patience.
The Saracens relegated and revenge
The numbers were not playing in favor of Laurent Travers’ men, however, who had won only two of their eight encounters with the Watford club.
They had certainly imposed themselves largely in Nanterre in November (30-10), but it was against the English very diminished. Their short defeat (24-27) in January, in the suburbs of London against, this time, the typical team of the Saracens had given rise to solid hopes. Especially since the partners of Teddy Iribaren presented themselves in this semi-final with confidence in good shape, after three successes in as many games since the resumption, in September.
But the motivation of the Sarries, intractable with the Irish Leinster in the previous round, has increased tenfold since they know they will play in the English second division next season. The sanction imposed on the English club for several breaches of the salary cap has re-inflated its players.
Even if they lost some elements (Will Skelton, Liam Williams, George Kruis…), the Sarries have retained many of their internationals. Five (Billy and Mako Vunipola, Elliot Daly, Maro Itoje and Jamie George) were thus holders in the final of the 2019 World Cup, lost by England to South Africa. And that’s without counting the captain and scorer of the XV of the Rose Owen Farrell, suspended.
Already excellent in the quarter-finals against the Irish from Leinster, Alex Goode still supplied him well in the kicking game. It was he who allowed the Sarries to remain within reach of the Racingmen at the break by converting two penalties (9-6).
An unprecedented winner
Several hand errors from Ile-de-France (Simon Zebo, Teddy Thomas, Camille Chat) gave the English club some opportunities. But Racing 92 held on for forty minutes thanks to their hard defense and the strength of their pack of forwards.
A left-side ride from Thomas, who was playing his first game of the season, was not far from hitting the mark before the break.
A week after their net success in Clermont (36-27), the Racingmen, muzzled in attack, paid for their indiscipline upon returning from the locker room. Goode, surgical foot, allowed the British to widen the gap (9-15).
But they reacted admirably in the last quarter of an hour. Maxime Machenaud, entered in place of Iribaren, brought his team closer (12-15), which created a great opportunity with a breathtaking breakthrough from Virimi Vakatawa, ten minutes from time. But the Sarries annihilated it. Again.
The young forwards who came into play, like Hassane Kolingar, brought freshness and made the Sarries sweat, who ended up giving in four minutes from the end thanks to Imhoff alone, well launched by Finn Russell (19-15).
In the final, Racing 92 will find other English: the Chiefs of Exeter, winners of Stade Toulouse in the other semi-final (28-18). The players of Ugo Mola, impressive against the Irish Ulster (36-8) in the quarter, this time fell on a bone. For his discovery of the last European square, the leader of the English championship rose in power throughout the game and annihilated the offensives of the red and black club.
Four times crowned in the competition (a record shared by the Leinster), the Toulousains will not taste again a final after a decade of famine. The Chiefs and Racingmen will have the opportunity to put their name on the prize list for the first time.