In a hugely physical encounter, the Ciel et Blanc took Toulon on at their own game, dominating the reigning French and European champions, winning the game 17-10 at Colombes
With the memory of the loss in the TOP 14 semi-final (16-6) still present in the minds of the Racingmen this was always going to be a rugged physical encounter. But in a fitting celebration of the return of their emblematic captain Dimitri Szarzewski, the Ciel et Blanc took Toulon on at their own game, matching the visitors in courage, commitment and hard-nosed physicality to deprive the Varois of the defensive bonus point.
“It’s a huge relief, especially playing our first home game of the season,” said man of the match Maxime Machenaud. “It was a hard match, but we managed to pull it off thanks to our courage and solidarity.”
Toulon got off to a fiery start, with several dangerous incursions near the Ciel et Blanc line. Under heavy pressure early on, the Racing defence held firm, but as was to be expected, in front of 9680 spectators the physical commitment from both sides was huge.
Things boiled over in the 17th minute with an all-in fight after a late tackle from Craig Burden on Jonny Sexton, but the yellow card for the Toulon hooker was to be the first turning point of the match.
Fired up after the fisticuffs, the Racingmen launched a huge attack on the opposition line, going through at least 15 phases. Luc Ducalcon, the tight-head made a great break up the middle, the forwards kept pounding at the line, and François van der Merwe, the Ciel et Blanc captain for the last four games, stormed over for the try. Jonny Sexton converted and the Franciliens lead 7-0 after 20 minutes.
Eight minutes later, however, Toulon struck back with a beautifully-worked try to James O’Connor, an 80-metre effort after a turnover in their own 22. Fred Michalak converted from the touchline, and the scores were even 7-7.
Machenaud added a penalty goal for the Ciel et Blanc to once again take the lead (10-7), and despite repeated attacks from Toulon, Szarzewski’s men were still ahead at half-time.
Machenaud, who scored again after the break, this time with a try to match Toulon’s effort. Starting from a counterattack by Casey Laulala inside the 22, the Ciel et Blanc unleashed a magnificent sequence of play, finding holes in the Toulon defense, and with a combined effort from forwards and backs, moving 60 metres up-field. Machenaud got quick ball from a ruck, dummied to his left, went through the gap and scored under the posts, before converting his own try.
Trailing 17-7, Toulon now had to score at least twice to avoid defeat. Michalak slotted a penalty three minutes later (17-10) and the visitors went into overdrive, trying desperately to get over the Ciel et Blanc line. Wingers Josua Tuisova and David Smith both came within inches of scoring (61’, 65’) but once again the Francilien defence held tight and Toulon just couldn’t get through.
“We took our opportunities and scored when we had to, and we showed great solidarity across the park,” explained Machenaud.From being five points behind Toulon on the leader board, Racing Metro are now only one point adrift, and can now build on this victory before going to Clermont next week. “The leitmotif of the week was that we had to show courage and commitment all together if we wanted to match Toulon,” concluded Machenaud. “But we fronted up, and it’s a promising sign for the future.”
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Saturday 26th August