Five of the home team’s seven tries came in the last 20 minutes at the Paris La Defense Arena, producing a final score that did not reflect how hard Richard Cockerill’s had fought to remain in contention. But the coach himself had no complaints about the outcome, accepting that it simply highlighted the gulf between the star-studded French club and his own squad.
“Ultimately they were too good for us,” Cockerill accepted. “Simple as that. There’s no disgrace coming here and losing, but obviously the margin of the result looks pretty ugly for us.
“Let’s be realistic. Let’s not pretend that we were one of the favourites coming into the competition. We are where we are and have to build from there. We have to have a measured view of our expectations. I don’t expect to get beaten by the score we got beaten by, but it happens and you have to manage it and get on with it.”
Edinburgh had some performances to be proud of, notably from the Six Nations Player of the Tournament Hamish Watson, who was ably assisted at the breakdown by Jamie Ritchie. But those two back-row men, and key attackers such as wingers Duhan van der Merwe and Darcy Graham, expended so much energy in defence that they had little or no chance to produce anything more creative.
Van der Merwe could have put Damien Hoyland through for a try in the opening minute, but his pass was too low, and James Johnstone thought he had scored a couple of minutes later only for the move to be chalked off for a knock-on by Ritchie. Watson was also close to scoring on the verge of half-time but was held up over the Racing line, so Edinburgh did have their chances. In the end, though, a penalty by Blair Kinghorn was all they had to show for their considerable efforts.
Kinghorn at stand-off rather than full-back was an adventurous decision by Cockerill, but as it transpired, made little difference to the game. Kinghorn failed to reappear for the second half in any case after taking a knock to his knee, and his replacement, Jaco van der Walt, worked hard enough but was never going to be able to alter the course of the contest.
Racing were 20-3 up at the break, having opened the scoring through a Maxime Machenaud penalty before Kinghorn equalised. They may have been without the suspended Finn Russell but they certainly did not lack for creativity, and after 25 minutes hooker Camille Chat got the try that his dynamic play had deserved after he raced through to pounce on a loose ball from the Edinburgh lineout.
That was the one area of the game where the visitors were clearly culpable of some unforced errors, but the bulk of credit for the eventual score has to go to Racing, who blended physical power with some subtle moves in attack. Machenaud got their second try five minutes before the break after some excellent work by Virimi Vakatawa and man of the match Jordan Joseph, and Watson’s failure to score minutes later was an ominous sign for his team.
Having been unable to score there, Edinburgh were in desperate need of points early in the second half, but it continued to take them all the energy they had to get close to the home 22 with ball in hand. Just as Racing appeared to be flagging slightly, they replaced their whole front row, a move which injected new life into their entire team. Stand-in stand-off Antoine Gibert added a penalty, then in the last 20 the French side cut loose.
Joseph scored their third try from a metre out after a tap penalty, then replacement prop Guram Gogichashvili got their fourth after a long, relentless attack. Teddy Iribaren’s conversion of both meant the score was bad enough at 37-3, but in the final minutes Racing added three more touchdowns, two from Teddy Thomas and the last by Francois Trinh-Duc, as Edinburgh wilted. Iribaren was on target with two of the three to take his personal tally to eight, while Machenaud had converted his team’s two first-half scores.
Results such as this tend to be called reality checks for the losing side, but the reality is that Cockerill has never been under any illusions about the gulf in quality between his own team and the very best clubs in Europe. “We’ve got tired guys and we’re chasing the game and it happens,” he added when asked about the late flurry of tries. “If you’re chasing the game against a team like this, then you’re going to create opportunities for them if you turn the ball over. We did and they took them.
“They’re a powerful team: powerful starting team, powerful bench, and we couldn’t cope with it. Look at their squad, look at our squad: anybody with any sense at all knows that man for man they’re probably stronger.”
Scorers: Racing 92: Tries: Chat, Machenaud, Joseph, Gogichashvili, Thomas 2, Trinh-Duc. Cons: Machenaud 2, Iribaren 4. Pens: Machenaud 2, Gibert.
Edinburgh: Pen: Kinghorn.
Racing 92: K Beale; T Thomas, V Vakatawa (F Trinh-Duc 69), H Chavancy (captain) (S Zebo 27), L Dupichot; A Gibert, M Machenaud (T Iribaren 57); E Ben Arous (G Gogichashvili 54), C Chat (T Baubigny 54), C Gomes Sa (A Oz 54), B Le Roux (D Bird 60, B Palu 62), D Ryan, I Diallo, B Chouzenoux, J Joseph.
Edinburgh: D Hoyland; D Graham, J Johnstone ( M Bennett 62), G Taylor, D van der Merwe; B Kinghorn (J van der Walt 43), H Pyrgos (C Shiel 51); P Schoeman (B Venter 59), D Cherry (M Willemse 51), W Nel (M McCallum 73), M Bradbury (M Kunavula 61), G Gilchrist (captain), J Ritchie (L Crosbie 59), H Watson, V Mata.
Referee: L Pearce (England).