Three and a half months after losing the semi-final (16-6) against the future TOP 14 champions at Lille, this evening (8:45pm) Racing Metro 92 plays host to Toulon on its home turf. Undoubtedly the key fixture of this third round of the French championship, between two of French rugby’s heavyweights, and two top contenders for the title, it is also an opportunity for the Ciel et Blanc to put down a marker for their first home game of the season. (Credit photo : Fabrice Aygalenq // Attitude Rugby)
For their first game in front of their home crowd at Yves-du-Manoir Stadium, the Ciel et Blanc kick off in style, with the first top of the table clash of the 2014 – 2015 season.
But even if the loss in last May’s semi-final is still ever-present in the minds of the Racingmen, there will be no question of looking for pay-back against Toulon this evening at Colombes. “We are into a new season now, and if we really want to get revenge, we will have to be good enough to come up against Toulon later in the season, in the knock-out stage,” says Laurent Labit, co-coach of the Ciel et Blanc.
Having started the season with back-to-back away games, despite the loss in Bordeaux last Saturday (30-21), the Racingmen can at least boast an away win in Montpellier (16-19) in the opening round.
As for Toulon, as reigning champions of the TOP 14 and double champions of the European Cup, the men from the Var need no introduction. Led by their captain, the tight-head prop and former All Black Carl Hayman, the Bernard Laporte coached side has today become a reference in European rugby, and after only two championship rounds have already stamped their mark on the competition.
Toulon already leads the TOP 14 rankings with two wins, the first away from home against Bayonne (15-29), and the second, complete with attacking bonus, against La Rochelle (60-19) at Mayol last Saturday. After overpowering La Rochelle with the pace of their expansive game, the Toulonnais will power into Colombes with the solid intention of pulling off a second win on the road. “You can feel that there is a lot of desire and enthusiasm, I just hope it lasts,” quipped Bernard Laporte after Saturday’s run-away win.
One thing is certain: as far as desire and enthusiasm go, the Ciel et Blanc can easily match their visitors from the shores of the Mediterranean. Although, as Laurent Labit pointed out, “Toulon looks set once again to be the thorn in everyone’s side in both Europe and the TOP 14”, in order not to be left stranded high and dry, a win is essential for Jacky Lorenzetti’s side. And the players cannot wait to play again in front of their home crowd.
“Toulon is obviously a big challenge for us, but above all it is our first game at Colombes and for our supporters we want to get off to a good start,” insists Maxime Machenaud, Racing’s international scrum-half. “Toulon may well be the reference in France, but that doesn’t mean we are trying to copy them,” he adds. “We have our own strengths that we can rely on. It is up to us to rise to the level of Toulon. If not to be better than them.”
In December last year, when the Toulonnais last set foot in Yves-du-Manoir, Racing prevailed, winning 14-3, thanks to a try to Marc Andreu, plus three penalties and a conversion to Jonny Sexton. “As we saw last year, it is always difficult to win at Colombes,” remembers Carl Hayman. “Racing continues to progress, and we expect a complicated match.” Food for thought.
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