After last week’s bonus-point win against Biarritz (37-7), this evening at Colombes the Ciel et Blanc play host for what is a veritable eighth-final against Clermont. A top of the table duel which the Racingmen must affront without their emblematic captain Dimitri Szarzewski. (Crédit photo : Emilie Manchon)
An almost perfect second half, a five-try bonus point victory, and a fourth place on the TOP 14 table… spirits were understandably high in the Ciel et Blanc change room after the 37-7 win against Biarritz last week. The only fly in the ointment, however, was the sad news from Dimitri Szarzewski when he announced to the rest of the team after the game that his season was over.
Undergoing surgery on his right ankle last Monday, our charismatic leader will miss the entire rest of the season, including the French tour to Australia in June. Even if he is not on the pitch, the warrior hooker will continue to play his role as captain, but the coaches have designated two captains – Maxime Machenaud and Antoine Battut – who will carry the torch until the end of the season. “Now it’s up to the others to do what it takes to make up for Dimitri’s absence,” said Laurent Travers, the forwards coach.
Accordingly, today flanker Antoine Battut will take over the captaincy role for this crucial encounter against the mighty Clermont side. Currently third in the TOP 14, still in the race for the European Cup, l’ASM made no bones about it in the away game, beating the Ciel et Blanc 47-14 at Marcel-Michelin. “For us Clermont is a reference,” acknowledged Laurent Labit, our backs coach. “They are even the utmost reference in the TOP 14.”
Nevertheless, in the opening round of the European Cup, on October 13th 2013, the Ciel et Blanc produced one of their best performances of the season, beating the Auvergnats 13-9 at Colombes. A huge game in which the Franciliens put in an incredible total of 249 tackles – almost double the average. “At the time that win did us a lot of good, even if we did spend most of the game on defence,” recalls Labit. “But today, our attacking game is much better and we believe we can now offer something else.”
After four consecutive wins Racing is steadily gathering momentum, complementing the best defence in the TOP 14 with a more and more successful attacking game. And while the Clermontois will undoubtedly have one eye on their European Cup semi-final next Saturday, the Ciel et Blanc must absolutely win this evening to ensure qualification for the play-offs. “That is the reality!” insists Labit. “We have won the right to play a real eighth-final on our home pitch. Against an opponent like Clermont, if we want to keep our hopes of qualifying alive, we have to produce a huge game. And we will do everything in our power to do so.”
In the name of Dimitri.
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Saturday 26th August