By entering the lawn of the Anoeta stadium in Donostia-San Sebastián, the players of Stade Toulousain and Racing 92 put an end to a long wait: it had been more than a decade since a knockout rugby match had not been played in this emblematic stadium of the Spanish Basque Country. On Friday, the nearly 40,000 spectators of the Top 14 semi-final thus rediscovered, in the hot Basque humidity, the scent of these very special matches which, more than ten years ago, left lasting memories for fans. of oval ball.
Tonight, memories, the people of Toulouse have forged some. At the end of a match that they totally dominated, they crushed Racing 92 (41 to 14), and are now heading towards a final, next Saturday at the Stade de France, and the chance to succeed in their season.
All day, Sky and White were dominated. It’s anecdotal, but it started in the streets of the city center. A few hours before kick-off, we were hard pressed to find Ile-de-France residents there: the rare blue and white jerseys were those of the city’s football club, Real Sociedad. The people of Toulouse were everywhere: beer in hand in front of the bars, strolling along the seafront under the surprised eyes of inhabitants not always familiar with rugby, and, finally, forming a noisy red and black flow along from the avenue leading to the Anoeta stadium.
In the stadium, the handful of Ile-de-France supporters were also outnumbered, inaudible to the songs of thousands of Toulouse residents. And on the ground, the Sky and Whites could not do anything either. “We knew there was a gap, but we didn’t think so much”sighed Gaël Fickou, the captain of Racing 92, after the match, visibly marked and disappointed. “Tonight, we were not invited”corroborated his trainer, Laurent Travers.
Racing 92 couldn’t do anything
His team deluded for about fifteen minutes. Solid, they responded to Toulouse a bit clumsy. The latter quickly corrected what needed to be, and from the twentieth minute, the victory of the players of the pink city seemed inevitable.
It was then that they scored two tries in five minutes: one by Matthis Lebel, perfectly launched in the interval, and the other by the colossus Emmanuel Meafou who was lying in the in-goal after a succession of charges near the Ile-de-France line. Having once again become dominant in melee and in collisions, very aggressive in defense, confiscating the ball, Stade Toulouse neutralized a much too clumsy Racing, guilty of a multitude of forwards and missed tackles. When it came time to return to the locker room, Toulouse were already leading 20 points to zero.
In the second half, nothing seemed to thwart Toulouse’s march to victory. How many times has Racing 92 started an interesting action, before seeing it annihilated, here by a forward, there by a formidable tackle from a man in red and black?
Fresh and rested Toulouse residents
For their part, the Toulousains continued to sink their opponents by quickly scoring two new tries, one following a pass after contact from Richie Arnold for Alexandre Roumat, the other thanks to a sumptuous “chistera” blind from ‘Antoine Dupont who lifted all Anoeta and brought the score to 32 to zero.
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Racing could have taken advantage of a Toulouse stadium which, knowing the victory had won, decided to slow down. But the Toulouse people never eased up. Thanks, no doubt, to their physical freshness, precious in the humidity and the Basque heat. Assured of their place in San Sebastián and out of the race for Europe for more than a month, the people of Toulouse have had plenty of time to spare their workforce. A very different situation from last year: “We had suffered, we arrived flushed in the semi-final. It was an obsession for us, this season, to arrive with a fresh, regenerated group.deciphered Clément Poitrenaud after the match.
Racing 92 still managed to score two tries. One, at the 77e minute, owes only to them and their selflessness. But the other is, in a way, the fruit of the madness and talent of Toulouse: after a magnificent recovery which saw almost the entire Toulouse three-quarter line touch the ball, Baptiste Chouzenoux, from Racing, recovered a ball, went up the field and launched Gaël Fickou towards the test.
A failed season for Racing 92
This crushing defeat confirms the failure of the 2022-2023 vintage for the Hauts-de-Seine team. Despite its important hexagonal and continental ambitions, Racing will indeed have won nothing this year.
Without a final in Saint-Denis, this match in the Basque Country was the last on the bench for Laurent Travers, the director of rugby. He will replace Jacky Lorenzetti as club president next year. Racing 92 is also parting with one of its nuggets: it was Finn Russell’s last match in France. The Scottish opener from Racing, who signed up with Bath, England, will no longer regale the championship with his delicious passes, his indecipherable runs and his improbable gestures.
At the end of this match, Toulouse finds itself where all observers were expecting it. In the final, against the winner of Saturday’s match, at 5 p.m., which will see Stade Rochelais and Union Bordeaux-Bègles compete. But this evening victory on Basque soil will hardly weigh if in a week, at the Stade de France, Stade Toulouse does not seize the shield of Brennus. After his season and his evening demonstration, Toulouse seems to have all the cards in hand. But as Toulouse manager Ugo Mola reminded us before the semi-final, “Regularity, if not to say that we are efficient over time, that offers nothing. The only thing, in the end, is to win.”.