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The French connection

From Bod’s hat-trick to Sexton’s drop-goal, no opponent has defined this Irish rugby century quite like France

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Big-spending Racing bomb out after late Leinster flourish in Dublin

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Niall Carson/PA Images via Getty Images)

A penny for the thoughts of Jacky Lorenzetti, the billionaire owner of Racing who saw his club eliminated from the Heineken Champions Cup on Saturday in Dublin courtesy of this second defeat by Leinster in six weeks. For years the big-spending Parisians had shouted from the rooftops that this tournament was the one they so wanted to win so badly.

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However, three years after they lost their third final in five seasons, they have now failed to finish in the top eight of Pool A and have bombed out at the pool stages after three defeats in four matches.

Racing had stank out Le Havre with the paucity of their play 42 days ago when these two teams previously collided, losing 10-42 and feeling fortunate it wasn’t a hammering by an even wider margin. So, knowing they needed a win to prolong their involvement in the year’s tournament, they had to bring their A-game if they were to secure the necessary win to survive.

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They ultimately didn’t, the visitors failing to fight for the entire 80 minutes. That said, they did get stuck in and even managed to lead Leinster 10-7 for five second-half minutes.

But that merely served to awaken the slumbering hosts who retaliated to win in a 36-10 canter that featured four tries in a 19-minute spell – the last three in an eight-minute burst during which the well-paid Racing gave up the ghost. They then went on to concede a sixth try in added time, Leinster at that stage playing to the gallery of a whopping 40,000-plus attendance

The opening stanza was mostly uneventful, the stragglers in the crowd making their way to the seats showing more energy than what was exerted on the field. However, it was only a matter of time before the gap between where these two clubs currently lie became apparent. That happened after 15 minutes with Leinster striking beautifully off first phase ball.

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The transfer of halfway lineout ball was endearingly sharp, with four crisp passes in total, and then came the defensive line burst of Garry Ringrose, who attack-wise had taken his talents onto another level this term. All that was left was for Jimmy O’Brien to make the line just 13 seconds after the Ronan Kelleher throw-in had taken place. Lovely.

Contrast that to Racing having a lineout throw on halfway a few minutes later. They were pedestrian in what they did, creating four slow rucks as they shunted crab-like across the pitch going nowhere in an attack that ended with a lame box-kick off nine.

Where Racing got lucky was that Leinster strangely didn’t kick on, the concession of a penalty on their own scrum feed five metres from their own line emblematic of the regressive mood they got wrapped up in, and the huff-and-puff, around-the-corner Parisians were eventually rewarded for a long bout of territorial pressure.

Hooker Janick Tarrit got over off the back of a 32nd-minute lineout maul for an unconverted try at a time when Leinster were a man down with Jordan Larmour sin-binned for a deliberate knock-out. Suddenly we had the type of close-score contest you should be guaranteed every time teams of this quality lock horns.

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Seven-five it remained until the interval and just minutes after the restart, Racing had a shot at the lead from distance. The Leinster scrum had again infringed but that error went unpunished as Finn Russell’s kick was well below par.

The Scot’s pass on 48 minutes, though, was truly resplendent, Christian Wade’s try ushering Racing into a 10-7 lead after a blocked clearance kick from near their own 22 bounced kindly and what followed left the scrambling Leinster rearguard exposed.

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Frayed home nerves, however, lasted a mere five minutes. This time an awkward bounce favoured Josh van der Flier and after with his team forcing a penalty advantage some phases later, Ross Byrne did a Russell with his pass to sub Dan Sheehan and Hugo Keenan burrowed over for the unconverted try and a 12-10 scoreline.

Three match points behind the eighth-place Lyon on the table coming into the game, a losing bonus wasn’t going to be enough for Racing but even when van der Flier was shunted over off a drive from a throw to the front of a five-metre lineout, the door was still ajar as the missed conversion restricted the margin to seven points (17-10).

Racing, though, didn’t want survival badly enough. Within minutes, Keenan was galloping in off a sumptuous O’Brien offload for the bonus point try, and O’Brien himself was soon rewarded, sprinting in for his second try. Byrne’s basketball-like throw with the clock in the red then allowed the diving Ringrose to entertainingly wrap it all up.

That score could have come at a heavy cost as Ringrose shipped a brutal tackle but he managed to get to his feet and ensure there was no sour note to the Leinster win that has granted them the top seeding in their pool and a knockout stage home run all the way to the Aviva Stadium final if they make it that far.

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