Racing 92 v Edinburgh: ‘Old boy’ Grant Gilchrist is a veteran of epic Parisian victories
The lock forward was a towering presence in Scotland’s win over France last weekend and it’s only a short hop from the Stade de France to Racing’s swanky new home, La Defense Arena. An unscheduled mini-break may not have found favour with his club coach, however.
“I don’t think Cockers would have been too happy with that!” laughed Gilchrist. “It’s pretty strange to have two massive games in Paris two weeks in a row, but it’s exciting times.
“The way this week’s worked out has been pretty good. The Edinburgh boys played Sunday, we played last Friday night so from our point of view we had Saturday, Sunday, Monday off then back in on the Tuesday.
“It’s more about getting organised, getting back into our systems, getting those connections back right so we can hit the ground running on Sunday.”
Last Friday night’s win was Scotland’s first over France in Paris since 1999. Edinburgh don’t have to go as far back as that and Gilchrist has vivid memories of a remarkable evening nine years ago when they beat today’s opponents in the most dramatic of circumstances.
With the scores tied at 24-24, replacement stand-off Phil Godman displayed nerves of steel to land a last-minute drop goal. Edinburgh did the double that season over Racing Metro (as they were then known) in a run that took them all the way to the Heineken Cup semi-finals.
It remains the high-water mark for a Scottish club in Europe.
Gilchrist was a young punk back then, loving the rollercoaster ride that also saw Michael Bradley’s side beat Racing 48-47 at home in another thriller. Edinburgh also beat French opposition in the quarter-finals and there were almost 40,000 at Murrayfield to see them edge out Toulouse to reach the last four where they lost out to Ulster.
“There were some absolutely bonkers games in that Heineken Cup run,” recalls Gilchrist who was 21 at the time and could count the likes of Nick de Luca, Matt Scott, Tim Visser, Greig Laidlaw, Mike Blair, Allan Jacobsen, Ross Ford and David Denton as team-mates.
“The fact it’s ten years ago now just shows that one minute you’re the young lad and the next you’re the old boy. I was the oldest in the team last Friday, as Hamish Watson took great pleasure in telling me a number of times.
“Those are good memories of crazy games. Certainly the home game against Racing was a ridiculous scoreline and then in the away game, we had the drop goal in the last minute to win with high drama.”
Racing are overwhelming favourites for today’s Champions Cup last-16 tie but Edinburgh have summoned the cavalry and six of the Scotland heroes from the Stade de France are in Richard Cockerill’s starting XV.
Gilchrist is joined in the pack by hooker Dave Cherry and flankers Watson and Jamie Ritchie, and there is plenty of threat in the backs from wingers Darcy Graham and Six Nations top try scorer, Duhan van der Merwe.
“None of the guys are coming back thinking they would rather have a rest,” said Gilchrist. “Everyone wants to play in these big games.
“Had it been a league game, I’m pretty sure a lot of guys would be saying, ‘I’m a bit battered, I need a rest,’ but with it being Racing away in the last 16 of Europe, everyone is raring to go and it will be like another Test match.”
It’s a strong Edinburgh team and they are further boosted by the absence of Finn Russell from the Racing side following his red card in Paris.
Antoine Gibert will wear 10 for the home side and he will be up against Blair Kinghorn after Cockerill pulled a rabbit out the hat and decided to thrust the full-back/winger into the playmaker’s role. It’s a bold move and one which could define the match.
Edinburgh have a more than decent record against French clubs and Gilchrist thinks their style is suited to playing against teams from the Top 14.
“Traditionally French teams have a strong power game, and we’ve always had a pack that’s been able to compete and get that parity up front,” he said.
“We’ve got players to break the game as well. Against Toulon [in 2019], we fronted up physically, stayed in the game and then had players like Bill [Mata], Darcy, Duhan and Blair who broke the game and won it for us, essentially.
“Look at Bill’s offload or Darcy’s finish the corner – those things really stick in my mind from that game. It’s about having the ability to deal with the power game of these French teams, and then it comes down to the small moments, and we’ve managed to win them in games like Toulon and Montpellier at home.
“We’ve had the power to not get blown away, the toughness in our pack. Racing are slightly different to a Toulon or Montpellier where they’ve got a lot of quality in that forward pack but it’s the backline where their main strengths lie.
“Defensively, we’re going to have to be at our best.”
Being part of a Scotland side that beat France away in the Six Nations can only be a good thing for Edinburgh’s international contingent and Gilchrist has the belief that he can pull off a double in the French capital.
“We believed we could go to Paris and win last Friday night,” he said. “It really felt like it was in our control to do that.
“There are certain aspects of Sunday that are right within our control as well. Nobody outside the group expects it, but the team we’ll have on the field on Sunday will have more than enough quality to win the game.”
Heineken Champions Cup last 16. Sunday, 12.30pm BST, live on BT Sport
Racing 92: 15. Kurtley Beale; 14. Teddy Thomas, 13. Virimi Vakatawa, 12. Henry Chavancy (c), 11. Louis Dupichot; 10. Antoine Gibert, 9. Maxime Machenaud; 1. Eddy Ben Arous, 2. Camille Chat, 3. Cedate Gomes Sa, 4. Bernard Le Roux, 5. Donnacha Ryan, 6. Ibrahim Diallo, 7. Baptiste Chouzenoux, 8. Jordan Joseph.
Substitutes: 16. Teddy Baubigny, 17. Guram Gogichashvili, 18. Ali Oz, 19. Dominic Bird, 20. Boris Palu, 21. Teddy Iribaren, 22. Francois Trinh-Duc, 23. Simon Zebo,
Edinburgh: 15. Damien Hoyland; 14. Darcy Graham, 13. James Johnstone, 12. George Taylor, 11. Duhan van der Merwe; 10. Blair Kinghorn, 9. Henry Pyrgos; 1. Pierre Schoeman, 2. David Cherry, 3. WP Nel, 4. Magnus Bradbury, 5. Grant Gilchrist (c), 6. Jamie Ritchie, 7. Hamish Watson, 8. Viliame Mata.
Substitutes: 16. Mike Willemse, 17. Boan Venter, 18. Simon Berghan, 19. Mesulame Kunavula, 20. Luke Crosbie, 21. Charlie Shiel, 22. Jaco van der Walt, 23. Mark Bennett.
Referee: Luke Pearce (England).
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