Explosive Quins display leaves Sexton in shade
Racing Metro 8 Harlequins 32
You wouldn't have expected that the Irishman with the biggest smile in Nantes last night would be Conor O'Shea, but he was rightly beaming after his Harlequins side stormed their way back into contention after two opening losses.
Jonathan Sexton did not start and it was a big surprise that he was not introduced until the second half as his replacement Benjamin Dambielle had a nightmare.
Racing were a beaten team by the time Sexton came on but he will be expected to lead from the front next weekend in London when they will bid to get their knockout hopes back on track. Racing, who have never reached the quarter-finals, also sprung Lions scrum-half Mike Phillips in the second half after his signing this week, but the ex-Bayonne player could make little impact.
Harlequins laid out their stall early against a Racing side who struggled to get up to the pace being set by O'Shea's team and the only surprise was that it took until the 20th minute for the visitors to hit the front.
Nick Evans' influence on the game had been increasing and it was a superb step inside Alex Dumoulin and Wenceslas Lauret which created the opening for the out-half through the middle and he brushed past full-back Juan Martin Hernandez to score under the posts.
He added the routine conversion and Racing were further rattled when his opposite number Dambielle sent the restart directly to touch, a mistake he repeated when Quins got in for their second try. That came after 31 minutes when Mike Brown and Danny Care combined to send Nick Easter barging through and he escaped Dambielle's tackle to touch down.
Evans, who had added a 21st-minute penalty from the right, made no mistake with the conversion to push Harlequins 17-0 in front. Evans kept Racing penned back with some excellent kicking from the hand and their only threat of a try was a good run by Marc Andreu which ended with a grubber, which yielded nothing.
Racing pulled back a penalty on the stroke of half-time when Dambielle landed a penalty from 45 metres on the right, but that was his final act as Sexton was introduced at the break.
The Parisians just could not get a foothold in the match. Evans increased Harlequins' lead with a 40 metre penalty four minutes after the restart and shortly afterwards any notion of a French revival was dismissed.
Hernandez failed to deal with a high kick 35 metres from his own line and the ball bounced kindly for Charlie Walker, who collected it and sprinted down the right wing to score. Evans converted from the touchline to make it 27-3.
A superb, high, Sexton crosskick almost put Juan Imhoff in at the left corner but such moments of flash were far and few between from Racing. They did manage to get over just short of the hour off a lineout take by Camille Gerondeau which ended with Bernard Le Roux getting over, but that was their last score as Sexton's conversion from the right went narrowly wide of the left post.
Racing drafted in Phillips and he showed great hands to collect a poor pass and counter at speed, but Quins snuffed out the danger. After that it became a matter of Harlequins trying to get the bonus point and while a couple of lineout drives on the right failed to yield the fourth try, they were rewarded 10 minutes from the end on the other side of the field.
Racing were unable to contain the drive from a lineout and it was replacement scrum-half Karl Dickson who got the touchdown to secure what could yet be a decisive point for Harlequins.
Now the focus will switch to The Stoop next weekend and O'Shea said afterwards that he expects Racing to hit back. "There will be a backlash, it is only half-time in this contest. But we are pleased, we played good rugby and got the result. We need to back it up next weekend," he said.
Scorers – Racing Metro: B Le Roux try; B Dambielle pen. Harlequins: N Easter, K Dickson, C Walker try each; N Evans try, 3 cons, 2 pens.
Racing Metro: J M Hernandez; B Fall, F Estebanez, A Dumoulin, M Andreu (J Imhoff 38); B Dambielle (J Sexton 41), M Machenaud (M Phillips 61); E Ben Arous (C Gerondeau 47), D Szarzewski (V Lacombe 61), L Ducalcon (D Khinchagishili 47); F van der Merwe (K Ghezal 68), J Kruger; W Lauret, B Le Roux, J Qovu (B Mukati 47)
Harlequins: M Brown; C Williams, M Hopper (B Botica 68), T Casson (T Molenaar 41), S Smith; N Evans, D Care (K Dickson 69); J Marler (M Lambert 69), D Ward (H Allen 73), W Collier (P Doran-Jones 55); C Matthews (N Kennedy 55), G Robson; L Wallace, C Robshaw, N Easter (J Trayfoot 73).
Referee: L Hodges (Wales).