Friday 24 November 2017

Exiles shine in stars' back yard

RACING METRO 14 LONDON IRISH 34

Simon Roberts

London Irish produced a trademark performance, full of guts and commitment, to lower the colours of one of the richest and most star-studded sides in European rugby in Paris.

The Exiles were well worth this bonus-point victory and they not only outscored their hosts by four tries to one but more than that, embarrassed them by epitomising rugby's inherent values of playing for each other and the team.

Racing could probably field two sides in the Heineken Cup but they played like a bunch of highly-paid individuals and did not come close to matching the spirit and resilience shown by the visitors. Victory for the English outfit, who lost narrowly to Edinburgh and produced an admirable effort with 14 men against Cardiff Blues, kept their slim chances of a quarter-final place alive.

Both sides had lost their two earlier Pool games and knew a defeat would end their European campaign, with the Blues now the favourites to qualify for the knockout stages after their win against Edinburgh on Friday night. Racing, the new money in rugby in Paris, have one of the biggest squads in the European game but the their performances and attitude in the Heineken Cup are mystifying.

Toby Booth, the London Irish coach, must dream of having the kind of players Racing Metro coach Pierre Berbizier has at his disposal, but it was his side who exposed the soft underbelly of one of the Top 14's most enigmatic outfits. Juan Martin Hernandez is the kind of player you expect to grace European rugby's premier competition, but he appeared almost disinterested at times before he departed just before half-time.

Fijian wing, Sereli Bobo, who is now 35 years old, almost sums up the enigma which is Racing Metro when he raced in for a superb try to give his side an early lead, before Welshman Jonathan Spratt, who was deemed surplus to requirements at the Ospreys, replied with a try for the visitors.

Replacement fly-half Jonathan Wisniewski, who came on for Hernandez when the Puma was off the field trying to shake off a leg injury, landed a drop-goal before full-back Gaetan Germain slotted over his third penalty to make it 14-10 to the French side at half-time.

After the break, it was all one-way traffic with London Irish producing a stubborn defensive performance but also showing a real cutting edge attack, scoring three tries -- one by Joe Ansbro and a superb brace by Adam Thompstone -- to record what is arguably their biggest win in the Heineken Cup.

Scorers -- Racing Metro 92: Bobo try, Germain 2 pens, Wisniewski d-g. London Irish: Thompstone 2 tries, Spratt, Ansbro try each, Jarvis 4 cons, 1 pen, Armitage pen.

Racing Metro: G Germain; S Bobo, V Vakatawa, J Matavesi, J Imhoff; J Hernandez (13-20, 29 J Wisniewski, M Loree (S Descons 66); J Brugnaut E Ben Arous 58), T Bianchin (G Arganese 64), J Orlandi, L Nallet [capt], J Nailiko (F van der Merwe 47), A Batut, B Le Roux (S Chabal 45), J Cronje.

London Irish: D Armitage, T Ojo, J Ansbro, J Spratt, A Thompstone, D Bowden (A Jarvis 14), D Allinson (P Hodgson 78); C Dermody (M Lahiff 62), D Paice, P Ion (F Rautenbach 69), B Evans, M Garvey, D Danaher, O Treviranus, C Hala'ufia (J Gibson 30).

Referee: N Owens (Wales)

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