Scoring nine tries to one, the Ciel et Blanc comfortably beat Treviso this evening (53-7). Despite this crucial bonus point win, qualification for the quarter-finals is not yet guaranteed. But as the only unbeaten team the Racingmen have already left their mark on the competition.
The historic first ever qualification for the quarter-finals of the European Cup is not yet mathematically certain. But at the close of play after the 5th round of European Champions Cup, Racing Metro 92 is on the top of Europe, with 19 points.
Paradoxically, the only team currently qualified is Toulon, who counts only 18 points, but it is a measure of the difficulty of this competition that Racing, the only team still unbeaten, is not yet 100% certain of making it to the quarter-finals.
“Just think, we can be the first to play a European quarter-final with this club! said an ecstatic Maxime Machenaud after the game. It’s huge, it’s magic. But we are not quite there yet.”
Right from the start, the Racingmen took the bull by the horns, spurning early penalty chances to go for the lineout and try and score tries. As expected the Italians provided stout resistance in the first half, but the tight game played by Racing’s mighty forward pack eventually reaped its rewards with an avalanche of tries in the second half.
Skipper Dimitri Szarzewski showed he is still very much alive and kicking despite missing out on selection for the French Six Nations squad on Thursday. The dynamic hooker replied in the best way possible, running in a hat-trick of tries (37’, 42’, 56’). “I’m not interested in talking about my own performance tonight. All those tries were collective efforts and I owe it all to my team-mates,” he insisted. “This is a hugely satisfying result, and it means that we still have the possibility of qualifying, and making a mark in the history of this club.”
Fittingly, it was Racing stalwart Henry Chavancy who set the ball rolling with the first try, off a Juan Imhoff break after 8 minutes of play. The Ciel et Blanc dominated the possession, but resisted the temptation to go wide, preferring to pound away at the robust Italian defence, wait for penalties, and then kick for touch.
Benjamin Lapeyre was the next to score, diving over from a ruck near the line and just before half time Szarzewksi opened his personal account, driving from a lineout to score the first of his three tries.
The Ciel et Blanc led 19-0 at half-time, but the war of attrition soon began to pay dividends. Szarzewksi scored again only one minute after the restart, thus securing the precious attacking bonus point for the Ciel et Blanc (24-0, 41’).
It took another 15 minutes for the Racingmen to add to their score, and once again it was the dynamic captain Szarzewski, who bagged his hat-trick in the 56th minute.
This was the signal for the game to open up and with a 29 point lead, the Racingmen started throwing the ball around and using the talent of their backs. A loose pass fell into the hands of the Italian international centre Michele Campagnaro, and he ran through unopposed to score Treviso’s only points.
Racing struck back immediately, however, with a magnificent solo effort by Juan Imhoff. Receiving the ball from broken play more than 10 metres inside his own half, the Argentinean magician danced his way through half the Italian side, before changing direction, and beating the other half of the team with a goose-step and a withering acceleration. With the conversion, Racing went ahead 36-7, then 43-7 after a penalty try.
Imhoff, the man of the match, struck again, scoring a try from a seemingly impossible situation, using pure speed to sprint to the line, and exceptional strength to smash through two tacklers and score. Finally, to cap it off, Benjamin Lapeyre, also producing a stand-out performance for the Ciel et Blanc, added his second try right on full time to take the final score to 53-7.
The Racingmen now have everything to play for in Northampton next week, as they take on the Saints to decide the winner of the Pool. “We are the only team unbeaten tonight,” concluded Szarzewski. “I just hope that it will still be the case next weekend.”
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