Sunday 25 February 2018

Carter deflects plaudits after sinking Saints in stellar debut

Racing 92 33-3 Northampton

Dan Carter in action during his Racing debut
Dan Carter in action during his Racing debut
Racing player Johannes Goosen tackles Ben Foden of the Saints
Northampton's winger George North vies for the ball with Racing-Metro's flanker Wenceslas Lauret

Steve James

It was Dan Carter's day, for the unusually large posse of photographers were waiting for him and no one else, but it was also a day when his Racing 92 side made a huge statement of intent in this season's European Champions Cup.

The great New Zealand fly-half was making his debut for his new club and he turned in a typically polished performance.

It was classy stuff when considering the rustiness of a six-week break, his new environment, a heavily strapped right leg and the very obvious intentions of Northampton to unsettle him at every opportunity.

He kicked three conversions from four and controlled the game well. He also got stuck into the physical side of things, never shirking anything.

"It was great that the crowd got behind us and were chanting," said Carter. "I was nervous before the game because I did not know how it was going to go. But the team made it easy for me and helped me integrate and I just went out there and played. My legs were really heavy at the end."

While Carter was named man of the match, others really were more influential. Tight-head prop Benjamin Tameifuna had a monstrous match and Northampton's video analysis of how they coped with him will not make pleasant viewing.

Back-rowers Chris Masoe and Wenceslas Lauret were outstanding, while Joe Rokocoko was hungry and powerful on the wing, Brice Dulin electric at full-back and, at scrum-half, Mike Phillips was exceptionally sharp. As for Northampton, they were very poor. They were missing some big players, such as Dylan Hartley and Tom Wood, but they have been blunt for much of this season.

They have earned some good results - not least winning their first two matches in this competition - by the power of their pack, but, when they are matched physically, or beaten as they were here, then the picture painted can be ugly.

It had been all over at half-time in truth, when Racing had led 21-3. They had begun by sending their big runners, especially Tameifuna, at the heart of the Northampton defence, continually winning the gain-line battle and offering front-foot ball to Carter and his backline.

Their first try came after 13 minutes, when Rokocoko fed centre Henry Chavancy on the right after prolonged pressure. The stage was set for Carter's first place kick for Racing, wide on the right, next to the touchline. Of course, he nailed it. It was 7-0.


Racing really should have scored again immediately, when Casey Laulala put wing Juan Imhoff clear down the left, but Tom Stephenson raced back brilliantly to make the try-saving tackle.

We did not have to wait long before it was 14-0, though, as Eddy Ben Arous plunged over from short range after his fellow prop Tameifuna had again made ground. Carter converted.

Carter very nearly scored a try himself after George North and Ben Foden had let a high kick bounce and Carter had hacked ahead.

JJ Hanrahan kicked a penalty for Northampton and, at last, the visitors began to make some ground, but unfortunately veteran South African lock Victor Matfield, on his first start for the Saints, made a huge error in Racing's 22, handing an easy interception pass to Dulin, who raced the length of the field to score. Carter converted, but it had been a crucial score. Northampton had an overlap and it could have been 14-10 rather than 21-3.

There was further disappointment for Northampton when they were convinced that they had scored a try just before the break. Racing overthrew a line-out that was gobbled up at the tail by flanker Teimana Harrison, who had an excellent half.

The ball went left and Luther Burrell, who had earlier had a nasty clash with Rokocoko, might have looked outside him, but instead went for the line. He thought he had scored, but the angles provided by the French broadcaster were not sufficient for referee George Clancy to make a decision.

"The TMO not working? It's rubbish," said director of rugby, Jim Mallinder. "There were no camera angles. It's French broadcasters who can't get the right angles and there's no communication with the TMO, so the referee had to make his own decision."

Carter was one of the Racing defenders there helping out, and he had done more than that in the first half, making eight tackles and only bettered in the first half by Northampton's Harrison with 10.

Harrison, though, blotted his copy mark immediately at the start of the second period as he knocked on and Racing capitalised to score a fourth try and take a bonus point.

Again, Tameifuna was prominent and his second burst of the movement sliced through the Northampton before he gave a delightful back-of-the-hand pass to Dulin for his second try.

Then replacement Johannes Goosen made a stunning break before Imhoff eventually crossed on the other side of the field for a fifth try. (©Daily Telegraph, London)

Racing 92 - B Dulin; J Rokocoko, C Laulala (A Dumoulin 63), H Clavancy, J Imhoff; D Carter (J Goosen 63), M Phillips; E Ben Arous (J Brugnaut 53), D Szarzewski (capt, C Chat 59), B Tamefuna (SA Gomes 59), L Charteris, F van der Merwe (M Cariizza 63), W Lauret, Y Nganga, C Masoe (A Claassen 67).

Northampton - B Foden; J Elliott (A Tuala 65), L Burrell, T Stephenson, G North; JJ Hanrahan (S Myler 57), L Dickson (capt, K Fotuali'i 57); A Waller (E Waller 47), M Haywood (M Williams 59), K Brookes (P Hill 57), M Paterson, V Matfield (C Day 57), C Lawes, T Harrison, S Dickinson (J Gibson 53).

Ref - G Clancy (Ireland)

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