Tuesday 22 May 2018

European glory would complete remarkable Racing 92 journey

Racing will rest key players but they need to make sure they get the bonus-point win which would send them into the semi-finals directly along with leaders Montpellier, who top the table on 81 points (stock picture)
Racing will rest key players but they need to make sure they get the bonus-point win which would send them into the semi-finals directly along with leaders Montpellier, who top the table on 81 points (stock picture)

John Fallon

It will be after midnight tomorrow night by the time Racing 92's players can fully focus on their Champions Cup showdown with Leinster six days later in Bilbao, as they have some domestic duties to attend to in Paris.

While Leinster fielded a second-string side in Galway last weekend, and can again continue their preparations uninterrupted, their opponents have a Top 14 clash in Paris tomorrow night that they badly need to win.

On the face of it, Racing shouldn't encounter too much difficulty in securing the win against an Agen side with nothing to play for as the Champions Cup finalists bid to secure a semi-final spot in the Top 14.

Racing will rest key players but they need to make sure they get the bonus-point win which would send them into the semi-finals directly along with leaders Montpellier, who top the table on 81 points.

Racing are next on 75 but Toulouse, who are away to a disinterested Clermont side, are hot on their heels on 74, with Toulon, who travel to Simon Mannix's Pau, just two points behind them.

The top two will go into the semi-finals with the next four in the barrages, essentially quarter-finals, and Racing will be keen to avoid that extra date.

Capturing the Bouclier de Brennus remains the top priority for every French club, but victory over Leinster next week would complete the journey which began when property billionaire Jacky Lorenzetti decided to divert some of his wealth into rugby 12 years ago.

Racing's history goes back almost a century and a half but the club was dying a slow death in the professional era until Lorenzetti stepped in.

Racing Club was set up in 1882 as an athletics club, changing its name to Racing Club de France three years later, and added a rugby section in 1890.

A rivalry which continues to this day was established with Stade Francais from the outset and over the decades the two have enjoyed and endured fluctuating fortunes.

The Parisian sides met in the first two Top 14 finals, with Racing claiming the initial crown in 1892 and their neighbours getting revenge a year later.

Stade Francais are the second most prolific winners of the title with 14 crowns - Toulouse have won 19 - with Racing capturing six championships over the years.

Three of those came in the early years, backing up their initial title with further success in 1900 and 1902 but they had to wait until 1959 for their next success.

Their form dipped again after that but a loss in the 1987 decider to Toulon heralded another revival which culminated in their fifth title in 1990.

But the arrival of the professional era found Racing Club de France unprepared for the switch and they were relegated at the end of the 1995-96. They returned to the top flight briefly two years later but were relegated, forcing a lot of change at the west Paris club.

The rugby section broke away and merged with US Metro, a club founded by transport workers, but Racing Metro 92 made little impression in the Pro D2, the second division in France.

All that changed in 2006 when Lorenzetti came on board. He had the money and the vision to create something special.

Promotion was achieved in 2009 as Pro D2 champions, Heineken Cup qualification followed a couple of years later and as one jaw-dropping signing followed another, silverware started to arrive.

Plans were also formulated to develop a new stadium and earlier this season the club bade farewell to the Stades Yves-du-Manoir and moved to the U Arena, an indoor facility built at a cost of around €360m.

But for all the millions spent on players and coaches, success on the field has been relatively modest for Racing 92 in the Lorenzetti era.

They have only managed to reach one Top 14 final but made that a winning one when they defeated Toulon 29-21 at the Nou Camp in Barcelona two years ago.

Now they are just 80 minutes away from completing the journey started by Lorenzetti's millions in 2006 - by winning a first Champions Cup -but first they need to take care of Agen tomorrow night.

Irish Independent

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