Tuesday 25 April 2017

Crisis-hit Racing have lost their fizz

Retirement of 24-year-old French player of the year Goosen sums up horror-show that has followed Parisians' title success

Johannes Goosen of Racing 92 during the rugby Top 14 match between Racing 92 and Montpellier. Photo: Dave Winter/Icon Sport via Getty Images
Johannes Goosen of Racing 92 during the rugby Top 14 match between Racing 92 and Montpellier. Photo: Dave Winter/Icon Sport via Getty Images
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

A slightly bemused Dan Carter was among the Racing 92 players who quaffed champagne, wearing blazers over their striped shirts before they took on Toulon at the Stade Mayol on New Year's Day.

It may be their traditional way of ringing in the new year, but given the series of events that have followed the Parisian club's Top 14 triumph at the Nou Camp last June, it seemed just a little inappropriate.

The club have always taken an irreverent approach to rugby and during their amateur days they were known for their quirks more than their rugby.

However, under billionaire owner Jacky Lorenzetti, they were transformed into a serious force who finally got reward for the property mogul's big investment when they claimed the Bouclier de Brennus in Barcelona, having reached the Champions Cup final a month previously.

With a state of the art stadium nearing completion to add to their ultra-modern training complex, an experienced and successful coaching ticket and a winning team that included global superstar Dan Carter, it all seemed set up for the men in sky blue and white stripes to dominate the domestic and European game in the years to come.

Read more: Bent hoping for Ireland recall but is keeping main focus on Leinster

It has not come to pass as a series of scandals and poor results have undermined their efforts in 2016/17.

When Munster were drawn in the same pool as Racing, Leicester Tigers and Glasgow Warriors, things looked bleak for Rassie Erasmus' men.

Tragedy

They were scheduled to meet Racing on the opening weekend until tragedy struck, but before Anthony Foley's shock passing the consensus was that, while they had endured a sluggish start, the French side would have the upper hand again.

Now, as the re-scheduled game approaches, the world seems a very different place.

The Reds are clear on top of the Guinness Pro12, and victory over Racing in Paris this Saturday would keep them in control of Pool 1 with two rounds remaining.

Racing, in contrast, are already out of the Champions Cup after failing to pick up a solitary point from their three games against Leicester (27-17) and Glasgow twice (23-14 and 23-7), and their French title defence is not going to plan as they sit eighth in the table.

Perhaps that's the reason they're set to rest Carter and a host of front-liners for the visit of Munster as they focus on domestic affairs.

If it was only on-pitch matters that are going awry it might not be too much of a cause for concern, but the addition of off-field scandals has created a sense that things are going off the rails.

News that three of the stars of their French final win over Toulon - Carter, Joe Rokocoko and Juan Imhoff - had tested positive for corticosteroids (they were subsequently exonerated of any wrong-doing) rocked their early season, while the latest controversy involving French player of the year Johan Goosen has further destabilised their efforts.

The club have launched civil and criminal proceedings against the versatile back, who played a pivotal role in their championship run last season.

At 24, Goosen has retired from the game to take up a position as a commercial director in his native South Africa, although the French rumour mill is linking him to a lucrative contract with Gloucester if Montpellier owner Mohed Altrad is allowed to take over the English club.

Racing have retained the Springbok's contract and he is still in their European squad for the final three weeks of their campaign.

"He remains bound to the club by a contract lasting four years," a Racing statement said. "His residence, company car, locker and place in the dressing-room all remain at his disposal. In response to his behaviour Racing 92 is forced to initiate several legal proceedings aimed at enforcing its rights and redressing the harm done to the club.

"Racing 92 believes the club is a victim of blatant fraud which Johan Goosen, his associates and various advisers must answer for in court."

The club are set to take civil proceedings to try and recoup advance image rights payments and compensation for the non-fulfillment of Goosen's contracts, while they will lodge a complaint with a French employment tribunal.

Read more: World Rugby increases sanctions to crack down on head-related offences

"A criminal complaint will also be filed, as the open-ended employment contract produced by Johan Goosen and signed by one of his friends and business associates appears to constitute a phoney document, given it is not conceivable a player puts an end to his sporting career while at its peak and accepts a position in a South African company for a salary 10 times less than what he was earning as a rugby player (around €470,000 a year).

"Full light must be shed on the responsibility of the various people who advised Johan Goosen in taking this aberrant and fraudulent strategy, and to this extent, there are grounds for wondering how Johan Goosen is being supported financially given the numerous commitments and investments he has to meet."

While it might not have a direct impact on their preparations, there is no doubt that the Goosen affair will be widely discussed in the Racing dressing-room. The loss of an influential player has weakened an under-performing squad and the combination of it all has undermined their season.

Although they couldn't get over the line against Saracens in Lyon last May, there was a real sense that Racing were ready to replace Toulon as the dominant French force in Europe.

Instead, the top seeds have three irrelevant fixtures to negotiate before they can finally forget about their dreadful campaign.

Munster will be the prime beneficiaries and it will hardly sit well with as great a European stalwart as Ronan O'Gara that his side are going into their first meeting with his old team with so little to play for.

No doubt, they'll take the home game seriously if only to try to get some points on the board before the end of the campaign, but with big names rested Munster will fancy their chances.

But while the champagne flowed on New Year's Day, there was hardly much call for it at a club that is in a far more difficult position at the start of 2017 than it was 12 months ago.

Irish Independent

Promoted articles

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport