Wednesday 24 January 2018

Farrell stays cool to set new points record

Racing Metro 28
Saracens 37

Eddie Butler at Stade de la Beaujoire

In a quite extraordinarily resilient performance in the far western reaches of France, Saracens took the match points and the honours.

In contributing 32 points, through 10 penalties and a conversion of their one try, Owen Farrell broke a record for most penalties in a Heineken Cup match and once again confirmed what an ice-cold temperament he possesses. He landed 11 kicks out of 11 attempts, the last a blast from wide out near halfway to seal the win and deny Racing Metro a losing bonus point.

It was not all good news for the visitors, or for England, as David Strettle, picked as a left wing in Stuart Lancaster's extended squad for the Six Nations, was carried off on a stretcher having been struck form behind by the swinging arm of Fabrice Estebanez.

Farrell's coolness won the day, but for a time it seemed that nobody on his side would be able to contain the collective might of Racing. Against a defence whose solidity had been much admired in the build-up to the game, they scored three tries in the opening quarter, two of them by the very rapid wing, Juan Imhoff. There were two assists by the equally impressive Sireli Bobo.

If Racing's wings were flying, it was not such a good day for the two prospective England wings. Not that Strettle had anything to do with his own misfortune. In the fourth minute he was approaching the ball when he was struck from behind – an echo of the Andrew Hore incident on Bradley Davies – and was laid out cold. The citing commissioner, Ireland's Eddie Walsh, may well be pursuing Estebanez, especially since he was involved in a second tussle, taking Chris Ashton with an off-the-ball tackle. Ashton reacted without actually going as far as throwing a punch and found himself sent to the bin.

If he was an innocent party then, Ashton was patently at fault for the first of Imhoff's tries, when he failed to hold a catch off the boot of Sebastien Descons. Matadigo picked up the ball and released bad boy Estebanez, who in return delivered a scoring pass to Imhoff.

Add to the tries a penalty by Descons and the loss of Will Fraser to the bin for 10 minutes for a late challenge on Juan Martin Hernandez, it would appear that Racing were doing exactly that, racing away with the game. But Farrell was engaged in his one-man pursuit. Every time Saracens – and it was not often – entered kicking range, they were awarded a penalty at the breakdown, and Farrell kept them in the hunt. At half-time they trailed by just four points.

It had not been all so very perfect for Racing. They had their second-row Qovu binned for an armless, late hit on Farrell and while the Fijian was away, Saracens overhauled that half-time deficit, Joel Tomkins sliding outside Henry Chavancy and putting Chris Wyles over. The set-piece play had come from a line out in the '22', Hernandez having been pulled back for kicking the ball out on the full from a pass outside the line.

The hosts grew more ragged everywhere, whereas Makp Vunipola, for example, came on and made a real difference at the breakdown, pinching ball with perfect discipline. The prop won the penalty and Farrell did the rest.

The game ended with Benjamin Noirot stamping all over a Saracens pair of legs, being sent to the bin, from where he watched Farrell land his last and longest penalty. Racing's European campaign, that had started so brilliantly, was over.

Saracens still have the presence of Munster in the pool, but on this day in the far west of France they could have not have done much more.

Scorers – Racing Metro: J Imhoff 2 tries; L Ducalcon try; S Descons 3 pens, 2 cons. Saracens: C Wyles try; O Farrell con, 10 pens

Racing Metro: B Fall; J Imhoff, H Chavancy (O Barkley 72), F Estebanez, S Bobo; J M Hernandez, S Descons; E Arous (J Brugneut 56), D Szarzewski (B Sa 74), L Ducalcon (B Noirot 74), F van der Merwe, J Nailiko (F Metz 62), A Battut, A Galindo (C Gerondeau 62), M Matadigo (J Cronje 49)

Saracens: C Wyles; C Ashton, J Tomkins, B Barritt, D Strettle (D Taylor 3); O Farrell, R Wigglesworth (N de Kock 52); R Gill, S Brits (J Smit 62), M Stevens, S Borthwick, M Botha, K Brown, W Fraser, E Joubert

Referee: A Rolland (IRFU)

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