Battling Racing 92 shrug off injuries but fall just short

Teddy Iribaren of Racing 92 impressed in the European Champions Cup final loss to Leinster. Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images
Teddy Iribaren of Racing 92 impressed in the European Champions Cup final loss to Leinster. Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images
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It was a decade ago, I was watching oldies rugby at Racing’s original ground in Paris on the Friday ahead of an international and I got chatting to a Frenchman on the sidelines. In light of Jacky Lorenzetti’s majority purchase, he bet me that Racing would lift the European Cup within five years. We are still waiting but it surely won’t be long before his dream becomes reality.

Racing lost several big names before kick-off and fly-half Pat Lambie inside three minutes. They had plenty of excuses to lose, and so they did, but they went down fighting with every ounce of energy they could summon. This club have heart and soul and they displayed both in spades yesterday.

This was a cracking final, tense, claustrophobic, sweaty, brutal and nail-bitingly close. The momentum swung one way then the other, no side was ever more than three points ahead of the other.

Leinster were able to hang tough, holding on to Racing’s coat tails even when they were under the pump, never letting the Parisians establish a gap, so when Racing tired late in the game Jonny Sexton was afforded the luxury of missing two second-half penalties (and ignore an easy three in the first half) and still win this match.

Racing played well but the truth is that Leinster won despite playing poorly; something for everyone else to chew on.

Like all great comics, the Dubliners maintain a great sense of timing. They didn’t take the lead until the 78th minute and when they did get their nose in front they were able to stay there. It may have made the victory that little bit sweeter that the man who conceded the winning/losing penalty in front of his own posts was Racing’s lock Donnacha Ryan, an ex-Munsterman.

For all the big names on display the best players on the park were mostly the lesser lights. Scrum-half Teddy Iribaren is tiny but he was the most influential player on the pitch during the first 40, kicking long and accurate from hand and off the tee, and his excellence rendered Maxime Machenaud’s absence almost irrelevant.

The full-back Louis Dupichot only played because Brice Dulin was unavailable and the pair are said to be doing no more than keeping the shirt warm for Simon Zebo but you have to wonder why one team needs three first class full-backs?

The same is true elsewhere. Even with Carter and Lambie sidelined Racing whistled Remi Tales off the bench, a veteran Frenchman with 24 caps to his name. He is third choice.

If he takes anything other than his A-game to Paris Finn Russell, who joins Racing this summer, is going to be the best paid water boy in the game.